The Archdiocese of Milwaukee filed its disclosure statement for the Plan for Reorganization under Chapter 11,, with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Eastern District of Wisconsin on Feb. 12. One legal observer, speaking on condition of anonymity, termed it the “most complete disclosure statement ever filed” in a diocesan bankruptcy proceeding.  

People tell archbishop: ‘It’s time for healing’

     The bottom of Page 125 of the Plan of Reorganization filed in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings has a place for Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s signature. When he signed it, he did so with a twofold intention.
     “From the start our emphasis was on trying to meet our obligations toward those who have been wronged, and on continuing the work of the church,” he said Monday, Feb. 17. “So when I signed it, this was at least a proposal in an attempt to do that.”
     As of Wednesday, Feb. 12, that plan is with Judge Susan V. Kelley in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court – Eastern District of Wisconsin. If it is eventually approved by the court, it will, according to the archbishop, take the archdiocese “away from the stagnation of the bankruptcy to considering the work of the church that we’re supposed to be about, but with the full knowledge that we will always bear the marks, the scars, of the bankruptcy.”
     For the most part, Archbishop Listecki said, people are supportive of the plan. 
     “Overall, the response to the plan is positive as they saw this as a turning of the page, saw this as a movement forward,” he said in an interview with the Catholic Herald. “Most of them were concerned about bringing about healing.”
     At the heart of that healing will be the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation, according to the archbishop.
     “My sense is that we build a personal spiritual life where we see these sacraments as the center, then our awareness and our responsibility toward others is heightened,” Archbishop Listecki said. “That will be the basis for a plan for healing.”
     As he has throughout the Chapter 11 process, the archbishop emphasized the importance of prayer.
     “Prayer keeps you in that relationship with God and forces you to understand you’re called to something larger than just what you want; you’re called to what God wants,” he said.
     The archbishop admitted that, at times, it has been difficult to pray.
     “Never did I think the church would have been involved in the sexual abuse of minors. I would think it would have the prophetic voice of pointing it out, being the conscience of society, but never would I have ever imagined that a priest would have been involved in something like this,” Archbishop Listecki said, noting that he experiences “personal pain” because of his personal identification with the priesthood and what it should represent.
     “I carry that in prayer, but, first and foremost I am sorry for the victims – the innocent who were involved in it. To another extent I’m really sorry about those priests, because not only is it a crime, it’s sin – a violation of their priesthood,” he said, adding that he prays those priests will acknowledge their sinfulness, and how “they’ve violated the trust and the loyalties of the communities they were supposed to be serving.”
     “When you put it in that context, yes, it’s hard to pray. But what comes about is the strength and confidence of God. You realize you’re helpless,” Archbishop Listecki said. “It makes your prayer more profound because your helplessness furthers the responsibility to trust in God.” 

Brian T. Olszewski

Besides detailing how the archdiocese would settle claims of creditors, including approximately 128 victim survivors of sexual abuse, and continue the work of the church in southeastern Wisconsin, the 337-page document provides a close look at costs involved in the more than three years since the filing took place, the archdiocese has dealt with clergy who have sexually abused minors, how it has ministered to victim survivors of that abuse, and who would receive compensation. 

Costly pursuit of assets
by plaintiffs’ attorneys

In the overview of the plan, the archdiocese notes it had offered $4.6 million to settle 23 claims, but that the plaintiffs, represented by Jeff Anderson & Associates, P.A., compensated based upon a percentage of what recovery their clients receive, rejected the offer in November 2010. The archdiocese also offered it at the beginning of the Chapter 11 proceedings, but it was rejected by the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors (the committee), comprised of five individuals represented by the Anderson firm.

Regarding the committee’s choice of legal counsel, the plan states, “The debtor has made allegations throughout the Chapter 11 case that the committee and its counsel, Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones LLP, have been improperly representing the abuse survivors to the exclusion of other unsecured creditors. No action has yet been taken on these allegations during the Chapter 11 case.” The list of creditors includes the Catholic Herald, with a claim of $1,245 for advertising sold and graphic design.

The committee opted to “demand that assets belonging to others such as parish property, parish deposit funds, and trust funds established for other charitable purposes be added to the Chapter 11 assets and distributed to abuse survivor claimants,” according to the plan.

The court eventually ruled that none of the committee’s allegations were correct, but the committee’s pursuit of those assets cost the archdiocese, which is responsible for its own fees as well as those of the plaintiffs, more than $3.8 million and represent more than 32 percent of all legal fees in Chapter 11. 

“…all the money originally available to creditors has been spent along with substantial additional monies that must be paid as required by applicable bankruptcy law,” the plan notes.  

Historical view of response to clergy sexual abuse

Six pages of the plan are devoted to how the archdiocese responded to the clergy sexual abuse. Among its response initiatives were:

1989: Established Project Benjamin, an initiative that brought together abuse survivor advocates, healthcare professionals, judicial and law enforcement representatives and clinical social workers and therapists to assist in the archdiocese’s response to abuse survivors. 

1994: Implemented a Code of Ethical Standards for church Leaders for those engaged in church ministry. It is in its eighth edition.

2002: Establishment of the Eisenberg Commission — an independent panel of experts that reviewed cases and made recommendations about priests who had been permitted to exercise ministry after past sexual abuse had been alleged or discovered. This step was only taken after extensive therapeutic interventions and with assurances from psychological experts. The panel reviewed cases and made recommendations as to whether the priest should continue in ministry. 

2002: Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults, adopted by the U.S. bishops that June. The archdiocese also took a number of other steps, among which, but not limited to, were the hiring of a victim assistance coordinator and a safe environment coordinator; and establishment of a Community Advisory Board and a Diocesan Review Board.

2004: Established an independent, voluntary mediation system that led to the voluntary settlement of 192 claims in the amount of $33 million. On July 9, publicly listed all diocesan priests restricted from ministry in accordance with the Charter on its website.

2013: Published historical records, timelines principally prepared by counsel for the abuse survivors, narratives, depositions and deposition exhibits regarding 42 of the 45 priests who have been publicly listed on the archdiocesan website since 2004 for having had at least one substantiated act of sexual abuse of a minor.

In regards to the archdiocese’s commitment to protect children from sexual abuse, the document states, “Only seven claims allege sexual abuse after 1990, six of which occurred in the 1990s, and the last which allegedly occurred in 2003. Thus, nearly 99 percent of the sexual abuse that has been alleged in the claims occurred more than 20 years ago and some of that abuse occurred much longer ago than that.”

Who gets what?

In the Q&A posted on, the archdiocese explains: “The bankruptcy judge has recognized the different categories of claimants and the plan follows the categorization of claims recognized in court proceedings. Making distinctions between the various situations represented by different claimants is necessary to settle all the claims. The archdiocese has maintained all along that none of the claims is legally allowable because of the statute of limitations.”

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki has insisted from the beginning of Chapter 11 proceedings that any reorganization plan had to include a $500,000 therapy fund, to which money will be added annually if there is ever a shortfall. Under the reorganization plan, abuse survivors, with the exception of those whose pre-petition settlements specifically provided for cash in lieu of ongoing therapy assistance and those who claims have been disallowed, the archdiocese will make therapy assistance available to “nearly all abuse survivor claimants that report sexual abuse by a priest.”

Among the classifications are those who have pre-petition settlement claims with the archdiocese. Approximately 84 claimants have or will receive the balance of what they are owed on their pre-bankruptcy settlements, which total approximately $702,000.

The aforementioned 128 claimants, listed in the plan as Archdiocesan Abuse Survivor Claims Subject to Statute of Limitations Defenses, “shall receive, in full satisfaction, settlement, and release of his or her Claim, a claim against the Insurance Litigation Trust for a Pro Rata distribution on such claim from the Insurance Litigation Trust in accordance with the terms agreed to by holders of Class 9 Claims…” The amount of money in that trust is determined by what is recovered from insurance companies. 

The approximately 165 abuse survivors with claims that have “no factual basis for fraud” will receive care through the therapy fund, as will the 48 abuse survivors with claims that allege “abuse solely by a lay person.”

The next step will be for the judge to hold a hearing April 17 on the adequacy of the disclosure statement, and then determine whether it contains adequate information that would help a creditor vote for or against the plan. If she deems it adequate, the disclosure statement, along with a ballot, will be sent to each claimant.