The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee Agrees to Pay $21 Million in Sex Abuse Lawsuit, but Victim Advocates Call the Settlement “Paltry, Harsh, and Hurtful.”
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee has agreed to pay $21 million to over 300 purported victims of past sexual abuse by the Roman Catholic dioceses. The archbishop has declared this settlement a “rebirth” of the Catholic religion, but attorneys and advocates for the victims have called this settlement a “paltry” payment for such egregious crimes against children.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee is one of 12 Roman Catholic diocese who have filed for bankruptcy in the United States. According to advocates for sexual abuse lawsuit, many of these diocese have filed bankruptcy as a direct result of the numerous sexual abuse lawsuits filed against the churches. The $21 million settlement would be distributed to over 300 victims of sexual abuse. According to the New York Daily News, this settlement amount is one of the smallest per-victim payments in all sexual abuse cases filed. An appointee in the diocese’s bankruptcy case will determine how much each victim will receive of the total $21 million sum. A judge will finalize the amounts in a November 9 hearing.
According to Archbishop Jerome Listecki, the settlement shows a renewal of the church’s commitment to focus on worship, service, and word. “This settlement represents for us in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee a new Pentecost, a day of rebirth that renews our focus on word, worship and service,” he told the New York Daily News. However, advocates for the sexual abuse victims are not nearly as confident that the settlement is a big enough payment to discourage future sexual abuse from church members. David Clohessy, a director of an advocacy group for survivors of clergy abuse called the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told New York Daily News that the settlement was, “the largest mass betrayal of child sex abuse victims we’ve ever seen by one diocese.” “It’s the most cunning exploitation of the advantages of bankruptcy rules by Catholic officials we’ve ever seen,” he said.
The original sex abuse lawsuit included 570 claims of sexual abuse against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The court determined that 330 victims would share the $21 million payout. The settlement also establishes a $500,000 fund to pay for therapy and counseling for previous victims of sexual abuse. Additionally, the settlement protects the parishes, schools and institutions Milwaukee from future lawsuits relating to sexual abuse claims. The 157 claims dealing with other forms of abuse, without a named abuser, or had already received a payment will not receive a settlement in this payout. 92 additional claims stated that abuse that occurred at a non-archdiocesan organization are also not eligible for payment in this case.
According to the New York Daily News, the average payment for each victim will be about $44,000 after legal fees. According to the director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the average payout per victim is $300,000 in most sexual abuse cases. This settlement amount is still the average even in cases where other U.S. churches have filed bankruptcy. The funds to pay the claims will come from insurance settlements and a cemetery trust fund.
According to the New York Daily News, the archdiocese of Milwaukee filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011 as a result of the large number of sexual abuse claims filed against the organization. According to the organization, the church has spent $19.75 million in legal fees throughout the bankruptcy case.