ST. FRANCIS — About 550 people filed claims of sexual abuse against the Milwaukee Archdiocese by the 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1 bar date in the archdiocese’s Chapter 11 reorganization.
The claims bar date was set by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court as a “final call” for people to come forward with monetary claims against the archdiocese, as stated on the archdiocese’s website. Ads broadcasted the date in major publications including USA Today, The New York Times, as well as locally in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and community papers to “reach across the country to make sure that we got the word out,” said Julie Wolf, communications director for the archdiocese, in a telephone interview with your Catholic Herald.
The message and the breadth and scope of advertising were negotiated with the creditors’ committee, Wolf said, noting that parishes and schools helped by posting the notices on their properties, parishes included it in their bulletins and it was published in multiple languages – Spanish, Hmong and a video post with American Sign Language was added to the archdiocese’s website.
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki wrote to recipients of his weekly email communiqué, “Love One Another,” Feb. 2 that the claims notification process was “purposely designed to solicit all possible claims,” and that the archdiocese has objected to some of those filed.
The archdiocese submitted motions objecting to three individuals’ claims of sexual abuse as children because in one case, the abuse falls outside of the statute of limitations; in another the perpetrator was a choir director at a parish and not an employee of the archdiocese; and in the third, the claimant participated in the mediation program for victims of clergy sexual abuse and received a settlement.
“We have objected to some of these claims because, under the law, they fall outside of the parameters allowed by the bankruptcy court,” Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki wrote.
“As an organization, we have a responsibility to do the legal things necessary under the bankruptcy law to ensure that rightful claimants receive equitable compensation in the Chapter 11 proceeding.”
The archbishop gave examples of claims to which the archdiocese would object including if someone has previously received a legal settlement, and if a perpetrator wasn’t a priest or employee of the archdiocese.
“The archdiocese wants to fairly compensate abuse survivors of diocesan priests with claims allowed by the bankruptcy court,” he wrote. “At the same time, we want to ensure that the church is able to carry on its essential ministries to meet the needs of parishes, parishioners and others who rely upon the church for assistance.”
Support will be offered beyond those whose claims are considered by the court, the archbishop wrote.
“Any instance of sexual abuse of a minor is a horrible crime and sin. We are committed to outreach and therapy for abuse survivors of our diocesan priests, regardless of whether or not their particular claim is eligible for consideration by the court in the Chapter 11 proceeding,” he wrote.
That’s why, he said, he asked the court to allow the archdiocese to establish a therapy fund “that would provide resources for therapy and counseling assistance for abuse survivors of diocesan clergy abuse as long as such a need exists,” with an initial $300,000 contribution.
“The therapy fund will be ‘evergreen,’ meaning that it will be established in a way that allows it to be replenished so that payments for therapy will continue for as long as abuse victims come forward for such assistance,” he wrote. “We are establishing it, not because we are required to, but because our faith calls us to do so.” Money
Wolf said that the money with which the fund will be replenished will be part of the plan of reorganization and be determined by the court.
According to Wolf, the archdiocese will not know how many of the individual claims filed by the deadline will be considered by the courts.
“We won’t know that for awhile,” she said.
A total of 662 creditor claims that include archdiocesan vendors have been filed in the amount of $123.3 million, according to the bankruptcy court’s online document filing system, which notes that “The values are reflective of the data entered,” and to “Always refer to claim documents for actual amounts.”
The list of creditors includes your Catholic Herald, with a claim of $1,245 for advertising sold and graphic design.
The “next big step,” according to Wolf is Feb. 9 when Judge Susan V. Kelley will consider the objections to claims that the archdiocese filed.
The archbishop sent an email to archdiocesan staff Tuesday morning, containing a letter about the Chapter 11 reorganization that will be included with the direct mailing of the 2012 Catholic Stewardship Appeal, which kicks off this weekend.
“Because this is the only communication from the archdiocese that goes to every registered Catholic household, I try to take the opportunity to update people on the current status of our Chapter 11 financial reorganization,” he wrote.
The archbishop explained the intention of the letter is to give people information regarding the progress made in the reorganization and to assure them of the archdiocese’s “commitment to candid communication and good stewardship of resources.”