Reasonable end to bankruptcy

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 08, 2015

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki at a news conference in St. Francis in 2011. Listecki announced last week that the Milwaukee Archdiocese has agreed to a $21 million settlement with victims of clergy abuse. The proposed settlement sets the stage for the archdiocese to close a bankruptcy proceeding that was filed in January 2011.

The $21 settlement that the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese has reached in its five-year-old bankruptcy opens the door to a new beginning for the church and for victims of childhood sexual abuse.

It should allow the victims to find some measure of the justice and peace to which they are entitled while at the same time allowing the church to focus on its mission of being a force for good in the community.

While not perfect, the settlement — if approved by the bankruptcy court — brings to an end a struggle that was longer and more bitter than it needed to be. And while not all the victims of sexual abuse will receive what they were seeking, the deal appears to be the best they could get and offers a reasonable conclusion to the bankruptcy.

The $21 million is far more than the $4 million the archdiocese was offering when it filed an initial reorganization plan in February 2014, as is the number of victims who will be compensated: 330 of the 570 men and women who filed sex abuse claims, more than double the number in the initial filing.

The clergy sex abuse victim who chairs the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's creditors committee called the settlement "the lesser of two evils," saying the alternative would have been far worse for far more survivors.

The plan will be financed with $16 million from the $70 million the archdiocese holds in a trust for the care of its cemeteries, $11 million from its insurance carriers and at least $2.3 million from archdiocesan sources that have not yet been determined. Of that, $7.8 million will go to legal fees and $500,000 to a fund for counseling for victims.

In an interview with the Journal Sentinel's Annysa Johnson, Archbishop Jerome Listecki said the settlement allows the 10-county archdiocese to "put an end to this terrible period in the history of the archdiocese and at the same time address the needs and compensate those who were victims."

"And it allows us to go forward and continue the mission of the church, and that's what's really important," he said.

Yes, but Listecki and other church officials need to constantly remain on guard that abuse of this kind will never happen again and that the sordid story of official coverups won't be repeated. At the same time they move forward, church officials need to continue teaching the lessons of this terrible period so that future leaders and parishioners won't forget.

And while the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal has garnered the most attention, it's important to remember that these crimes have long been a problem for all kinds of institutions that serve children and other vulnerable souls.

It is essential that all such groups, along with the Catholic Church, continually review their processes to make sure children are protected from predators.

This will be the greatest legacy of the victims who never gave up their fight: the protection of future generations of children from abuse. For this, the church and greater community owe them a great deal of gratitude.



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.