ST. FRANCIS — On Monday, Oct. 18, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will enter into mediation with the representatives of the 15 victim/survivors of clergy abuse who currently have lawsuits pending against the archdiocese.
The mediation will take place in Chicago with Stuart A. Nudelman, a retired Cook County, Ill., trial judge, serving as the independent mediator. In an interview with your Catholic Herald, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki termed Nudelman “a well-respected mediator.”
Read Archbishop Listecki’s e-mail communication to people involved in ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee
Along with Archbishop Listecki, Jerry Topczewski, the archbishop’s chief of staff, Barbara Anne Cusack, chancellor, and archdiocesan attorneys will represent the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
According to Archbishop Listecki, in his weekly Love One Another e-mail communication with those involved in ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Oct. 12, the mediation came about at his request.
“At present, there are 12 lawsuits filed by 15 victims/survivors alleging archdiocesan leaders committed fraud by failing to disclose past credible allegations about priests who had sexually abused minors when moving these priests to new assignments, enabling them to commit additional assaults,” he wrote.
“In an effort to resolve these claims and bring some healing and peace to the victims/survivors, I directed our attorneys to ask the victims/survivors in these cases whether they would be willing to try to reach a settlement of these lawsuits through a mediation process.”
He wrote that he is “heartened that the claimants, through their attorneys, have agreed to participate in a mediation.”
To date, the archdiocese has reached settlements with 190 victims/survivors through mediation.
Describing the upcoming session as a “positive development for everyone,” Archbishop Listecki said, “Let me say with all sincerity that I am approaching this mediation with an open mind, a humble heart, and a willingness to jointly seek resolution, if one is possible.”
He wrote that reaching a just settlement of these claims would carry the added benefit of avoiding additional pain, huge financial costs, lengthy delays and further uncertainty that trials would cause.
In a question and answer on the mediation process, posted on the archdiocesan Web site, www.archmil.org, the question was posed, “If (mediation) doesn’t work, will you file for bankruptcy?”
“Bankruptcy would be an extremely painful and serious decision that would only come as a last resort. The financial tension we are living under is to do everything we can to reach resolution with victims/survivors while continuing to fund other essential ministries of the Catholic Church in southeastern Wisconsin. Several other dioceses have come to the conclusion that the only way to manage these demands was to declare bankruptcy. We hope we can find another way,” is the posted answer.
According to Catholic News Service reports, Nudelman has been involved in mediation settlements involving the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa.
He served as arbitrator in 2008 when the Archdiocese of Chicago agreed to pay 16 victims of clergy sex abuse more than $12.6 million in a settlement announced Aug. 12, 2008, according to CNS.
In the Davenport situation, Nudelman’s assistance in the mediation process led to a settlement of $37 million and non-monetary provisions which brought closure and healing to survivors of sexual abuse, and allowed the diocese to come out of bankruptcy.
Following that process, both the diocese and Creditors Committee praised Nudelman’s assistance in the process.
“He’s the one who was responsible for the successful negotiations and both sides owe him a debt of gratitude,” said Mike Uhde, co-chair of the Creditors Committee and a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, in a CNS news report.
As he looks ahead to the mediation session, Archbishop Listecki wrote, “What we have learned about the human damage and suffering of the victims/survivors makes it clear that our goal must be to find ways to bring peace and comfort to these individuals and their families. Direct mediation talks between us may be that promising pathway.”
As for the spiritual impact the process and its outcome might have on the archdiocese, Archbishop Listecki told your Catholic Herald, “We’re looking for some kind of reconciliation and the best ways to minister to victim/survivors. We have a responsibility, as an archdiocese, to minister to victim/survivors and their families.”