Wis. archdiocese offers clergy abuse victims $4M

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 12, 2014 at 5:07 pm •  Published: February 12, 2014
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Archdiocese of Milwaukee said Wednesday that it was prepared to set aside $4 million in its bankruptcy reorganization plan to compensate clergy sexual abuse victims, an amount one victim called "obscene" in its stinginess.

Milwaukee is one of 11 Roman Catholic dioceses nationwide to file for bankruptcy in the past decade. If approved by a judge, Milwaukee's reorganization plan would provide the smallest per-victim payments yet in these cases — roughly $32,000 each for 125 victims. The actual amount each victim receives would be based on individual circumstances.

Other Catholic dioceses have paid victims hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Milwaukee victims said they thought $400,000 per person would have been a reasonable offer. Of the seven dioceses to resolve their bankruptcies thus far, all have had per-victim payments of more than $100,000, according to BishopAccountability.org, which collects data and documents related to clergy sexual abuse. Only Fairbanks, Alaska, paid less — about $38,000 per victim.

In addition, more than three-fourths of the people who filed claims against the Milwaukee archdiocese in bankruptcy court would receive no compensation, either because they previously received settlements or because their abuser was not a diocesan priest.

"This plan is obscene," said Peter Isley, who was abused by a priest working in southeastern Wisconsin but assigned to a religious order. Isley added, "I think even the most hard core Catholics are going to find this upsetting and unacceptable."

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki acknowledged that some victims would be upset.

"No amount of money, basically, is enough to compensate for the loss," he said. "So I think that's first and foremost important to realize. I think the wonderful thing at least about the plan is that we provide therapy for all abuse survivors for as long as they need it. In my discussion with some victims, they said how important it was that therapy is there ... no amount of money will make them whole."

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2011, saying pending sexual abuse lawsuits could leave it with debts it couldn't pay. It had already paid $33 million in settlements to victims.

Most Milwaukee claims relate to abuse that happened before 1990. Records released last summer showed most victims who settled with the archdiocese over the years received about $50,000, along with the cost of therapy.

Outside the archdiocese's lakefront headquarters Wednesday, victims decried the plan, saying the offer paled in comparison to how much the church spent on legal fees and severance to abusive priests.

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