550 abuse claims filed against Wis. archdiocese

Associated Press Modified: February 1, 2012 at 8:45 pm •  Published: February 1, 2012

MILWAUKEE (AP) — About 550 people have filed claims for restitution for alleged sexual abuse by clergy in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee — the most of the eight dioceses in the U.S. that have sought bankruptcy protection, a lawyer in the Milwaukee case said Wednesday.

James Stang, a bankruptcy lawyer who represents creditors in the Wisconsin case, estimated about 550 claims had been filed by the Wednesday afternoon deadline set by the court. The Milwaukee Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection last year, saying pending sex-abuse lawsuits could leave it with debts it couldn't afford.

The archdiocese has paid more than $30 million in settlements and other court costs related to alleged clergy abuse. The archdiocese only had $4.6 million in assets to be applied to claims in 2010. The bankruptcy court will decide the final payout, archdiocese spokeswoman Julie Wolf said.

A victim's advocacy group called the number of filings "extraordinarily tragic," but said that represented only a small portion of people abused by clergy.

"It's sad and it just shows how devastating these crimes have been on this community but it's obviously far from over," said Peter Isely, the Midwest director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

More than a dozen sex abuse lawsuits pending against the Milwaukee Archdiocese have been halted due to the bankruptcy proceedings. They include allegations against a priest accused of abusing some 200 boys at a suburban school for deaf students from 1950 to 1974.

The other seven Catholic dioceses in the U.S. that have filed for bankruptcy since the clergy abuse scandal erupted in 2002 in Boston are in Davenport, Iowa; Fairbanks, Alaska; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; Spokane, Wash.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Wilmington, Del. Two other religious orders have also filed for bankruptcy.

Of the seven other dioceses that also filed for bankruptcy, the number of claims ranged from about 40 to 250, Stang said. About 535 claimants had come forward against the Oregon Province of the Jesuits, he said.

Both Wolf and Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who represents clergy abuse victims, including some in the Milwaukee case, said it's hard to compare the cases. Anderson said each diocese represents a different number of people. And Wolf said some dioceses are incorporated differently.

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