ST. FRANCIS — The Archdiocese of Milwaukee responded quickly and emphatically Tuesday, Feb. 7, to a statement made by Fr. James Connell in which he stated that the archdiocese wants “the dismissal of the vast majority” of the about 550 claims of sexual abuse committed by clergy, teachers, employees, volunteers and others connected with the archdiocese.

In a statement obtained by your Catholic Herald prior to a Feb. 7 press conference held on the sidewalk of the U.S. Federal Courthouse, alongside Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) leaders, Fr. Connell said, “Eligibility restrictions should have been stated clearly on the public postings and on the proof of claim form. To introduce these restrictions at the end of the process is disingenuous and further breeds distrust of Catholic Church leaders.”

Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, said, upon receiving a copy of the statement, that he had emailed Fr. Connell, writing, “I hope you reconcile your statement with the facts before you make it.”

“The language on the claim form was agreed upon by the creditors’ committee and the archdiocese, and then ordered by the court,” Topczewski said. “They (creditors’ committee) knew what was in the claim form before it was made public.”

The Abuse Survivor Proof of Claim Form, approved by attorneys for the archdiocese and the creditors’ committee, and accepted by the court, states:

You should not file an Abuse Survivor Proof of Claim Form if:

  • Your Abuse Survivor Claim has already been paid in full unless you believe the mediation or settlement process resulted in a settlement that you believe is misleading or unfair;
  • You hold an Abuse Survivor Claim that has been allowed by an order of the Court on or before the Abuse Survivors Bar Date;
  • You hold an Abuse Survivor Claim under a mediation settlement and your only claim is for the unpaid amount stated in the settlement agreement; or
  • You do not have a claim against the archdiocese.

In his statement, Fr. Connell, pastor of St. Clement Parish, Sheboygan and vice chancellor of the archdiocese, maintained that public postings by the archdiocese and the Abuse Survivor Proof of Claim form did not state “any eligibility restrictions, such as statute of limitations, prior settlement agreements, or factors of archdiocesan employment.” The postings and the claim form are part of the Chapter 11 reorganization for which the archdiocese filed on Jan. 4, 2011. 

Topczewski said that in motions regarding the bar date for filing claims, the archdiocese stated its intentions “to object to some claims.” Three objections that the archdiocese has already filed include one regarding a claim on which the statute of limitations had expired, another in which the claimant already had a legal settlement, and the other in which the abused was not an archdiocesan employee.

He said that the determination of what claims are eligible will be decided by the court.

“We have a responsibility to follow the laws of the court. And it’s a fiduciary responsibility. It’s the same with the creditors committee,” Topczewski said. “The creditors committee, I’m assuming, can’t have claims that aren’t eligible. Why would I, as person eligible “A,” want someone else in who is not eligible? In essence, they’re taking a part of what the resources are for the people who are eligible.”

He added that both sides have a responsibility “to make sure that only people who are eligible are in the pool of claimants.”