Dear Friends in Christ,
As the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Chapter 11 reorganization continues to move forward, I find the best way to communicate clear, factual, and up-to-date information about the process is via e-mail. So here is an update that can be shared with parishioners, parish and school staff, and anyone else you feel would appreciate receiving this latest information directly from me.
Yesterday (June 1), there was a hearing on three motions filed by the archdiocese to assist clergy abuse survivors. The archdiocese asked permission to continue paying financial portions of mediation agreements that were reached with survivors prior to the bankruptcy. The judge approved the payments for 2011, but noted they would be subject to the bankruptcy code once a final settlement is reached. The archdiocese also asked permission to continue the mediation process with two more survivors who had asked for mediation prior to the bankruptcy. The judge approved this, but with the contingency that no financial agreements could be reached at this time. Lastly, the archdiocese asked for the highest level of protection for the names of victims/survivors to protect their privacy. The judge agreed confidentiality was important and ruled that the names be kept under seal of the court.
The Creditors’ Committee of victims/survivors opposed all three of these motions. In doing so, the committee attorneys called witnesses that were highly critical of the independent mediation system and of our Chancellor, Dr. Barbara Anne Cusack. We know that no process could ever restore what was taken from abuse survivors. I also know that Barbara Anne has worked with numerous victims/survivors, including through the mediation system, and I know of her pastoral sensitivity, care and concern for those who have been harmed. The mediation system was independent and voluntary, and designed to assist survivors in reaching resolution with the Church. Is it completely perfect for everyone? No system could be, especially in these circumstances. But it had created a vehicle which was used successfully by more than 180 people.
On May 20, attorneys for the victim-creditors filed a motion asking the court to allow them to proceed with depositions in the civil lawsuits against the archdiocese that were pending at the time of the Chapter 11 filing. You may recall that one of the main reasons we filed for Chapter 11 was that I believed it was an unavoidable next step. There are enormous legal fees in taking cases to trial and our attempts at a mediated resolution failed.
We entered into Chapter 11 to conserve our resources until we could come up with a plan of reorganization that reached a satisfactory and equitable resolution with all creditors, especially clergy abuse survivors. We were trying to contain legal fees that were escalating year-after-year and continue vital ministries, programs and services that benefit parishes, and schools and others who rely upon the Church for support.
Taking depositions is an incredibly expensive process. An average deposition could cost $25,000 to $30,000. Multiply that by the 10 depositions asked for by the creditors’ committee and you can see that this process would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that’s just for starters. There could be more depositions after that, draining even more resources. We know abuse was committed. We know people were harmed. What we need to know now is who all the claimants will be.
That’s why it is so important to have a “bar date” set so there is a deadline for filing claims. It seems futile to spend time and money on depositions at this point. We could take (and pay for) depositions now, only to find out later that additional questions need to be asked and additional depositions necessary, costing even more money.
Remember, by the rules of Chapter 11, the archdiocese has to pay the lawyers on BOTH sides — and one of the things lawyers are good at is generating fees. Some of these attorneys are billing the archdiocese at $650 per hour! While some may want to minimize the expense, the costs are real. From January 4 through April 30, 2011, the legal bills for our attorneys and those representing the creditors’ committee are approaching $1 million.
Attorneys for the creditors will again claim we continue to hide things or there is more “new” information to be discovered. This is “hogwash.” The Chapter 11 process and the civil lawsuits that pushed us there are an adversarial process, so the claim is no surprise. Attorneys want to publicize embarrassing testimony and attack individuals for decisions made, using the 20-20 hindsight of today. Media want to sensationalize complex stories into out-of-context sound bites.
Not mentioned is the fact that the names of all diocesan perpetrators have been voluntarily posted on our website since 2004, and the archdiocese was one of the first in the country to do so. Not mentioned is that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has been forthcoming with information about clergy sexual abuse and about perpetrators and, over the years a number of depositions have already been taken in various cases. Not mentioned is that the archdiocese has already opened its files for review by law enforcement officials, a retired judge and for an outside forensic examiner, to ensure all perpetrators have been identified and held accountable. And, also not mentioned, is that through the independent mediation system and in personal meetings with my predecessor, individual survivors have received detailed information about who knew what and when they knew it, with regard to their abuse and their perpetrators.
Abuse survivors have told us it is not just about the money. We listened to them and implemented numerous non-economic initiatives to keep children safe and hold perpetrators accountable. Now we are at the point where the financial aspects of this crisis must be dealt with and every dollar we spend on legal expenses is one less dollar available for sexual abuse victims.
Even with all of this, we don’t outright oppose additional depositions that would be relevant to the process. What we do oppose is spending money that could be better used to reach resolution with our creditors.
My interest, as your archbishop and as a pastor, is to do what I can to support abuse survivors and all Catholics who are rightfully disgusted by the sexual abuse crisis. Part of my role is to continue moving us forward, step-by-step, day-by-day as a Church and through this Chapter 11 process. I believe we can do this by remaining focused on our goals of equitably compensating those who have been harmed; continuing our outreach to abuse survivors; and moving forward as an archdiocese on stable financial ground that allows the Church to continue its good work in charity and education for all those who rely upon the Church for support.
The road that moves us forward is not smooth. It will have its bumps along the way. But at the end of the day, we know our compass is pointed in the right direction if it is focused on Jesus Christ and His Church and if we rely upon his grace to guide us.
I ask you to continue to offer your prayers for those who have been harmed and be assured of my own prayers for all involved in this process.
In His Name,
Archbishop Jerome Listecki