ST. FRANCIS — Three days after Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki announced that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee had filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the work of the archdiocese continued as it had before the filing.
“Chapter 11 is a reorganization; it doesn’t mean you’re closing your doors and going out of business,” said John Marek, the archdiocese’s chief financial officer, in an interview with your Catholic Herald Jan. 7. “Some people, when they hear bankruptcy, think that means, ‘Well, next month the building will be vacant and it’s gone.’ That’s not the case.
“Chapter 11 gives a pause to financial pressures on the archdiocese while allowing the archdiocese to continue to develop a plan for how it will move forward in the future, as well as develop a plan to pay creditors – all creditors,” he said.
Marek noted that once the court examines and approves the plans, the plans are implemented and the archdiocese moves out of bankruptcy.
“It continues to operate all the way through the process,” he said.
The archdiocese sought and received an extension of 21 days in which to file paperwork necessary for the case to proceed. That paperwork, i.e., schedules of assets and liabilities, statement of financial affairs and statement of contracts and leases, would have been due Jan. 18. The new deadline is Feb. 7. That request, according to Marek, was “fairly typical.”
“When you have a large organization and a fair amount of complexity, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to assemble all the accurate information for the schedules within that short of a time frame,” he said.
Marek likened the forms that needed to be completed to the schedules one uses when doing income taxes.
“There are standard forms that are required when you file for bankruptcy that you have to file with the court. It’s not that you come in with whatever you think would be useful. You come in with schedules,” he said of the way assets and liabilities have to be shown. “The court has certain ways of asking for the information so you have to put it into the format as requested for the filing.”
Marek reiterated a point made by Archbishop Listecki when the Chapter 11 reorganization was filed: Parishes, school and other Catholic entities, e.g., Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, Catholic Charities and your Catholic Herald, not owned by the archdiocese are not subject to the reorganization process.
“They have their own legal, corporate status, their own legal existence; they own their own assets. They have their own officers and boards of directors, and they’re not part of the archdiocese’s assets. They are not something we control,” he said.
Funds that should not be at risk, according to Marek, are the pension plans for priests and laity because of the manner in which they are structured.
“The pension plan is a multiple employer pension plan. All of the employers, which would be the parishes, schools and other entities who have the employees participate in the plan, are participating employers in the plan,” he said. “It’s not an archdiocesan asset. It has assets that were contributed by well over 300 different employers. The archdiocese does not own that money; the archdiocese has an administrative role.”
In preparation for the Chapter 11 announcement, the archdiocese, through its office of communications, invited people to submit questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. According to Julie Wolf, communications director, the archdiocese had received “a couple of hundred” responses as of Jan. 7.
“There were overwhelmingly supportive e-mails from our people,” she said.