MILWAUKEE – Judge Susan V. Kelley denied the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s motion “for clarification of the Court’s orders on confidentiality” Wednesday, Feb. 29, but in denying it, reiterated what the archdiocese has been saying since 2002: There is no public safety crisis.
The motion was filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin where Kelley is presiding over the Chapter 11 reorganization of the archdiocese.
The motion, referring to statements made in court by the claimants’ attorney, Jeffrey Anderson, in which he contended that there were 100 perpetrators of abuse “not previously disclosed” by the archdiocese, and who “were responsible for 8,000 instances of abuse,” said that Anderson’s comment “was an unnecessary use of confidential information at the hearing and is not an accurate characterization of the facts,” and that his “statement has caused numerous press inquiries, newspaper articles, television coverage, questions from parishioners and is now causing legislators to request the Wisconsin Attorney General’s involvement.”
In quickly denying the motion, Kelley asked, “One violation and we’re going to cure it with another violation (of the confidentiality agreement)?”
Frank LoCoco, an attorney representing the archdiocese, spoke to the court by phone, saying, “The playing field is not level when we can’t assure people their children are safe.”
Kelley responded that “our purpose seems to have gotten lost,” i.e., for the debtors (archdiocese) to file a plan by which it would pay valid claims.
Three times during the 20-minute hearing, Kelley said the “public safety” threat that claimants said existed, did not exist.
“My independent review shows there is no public safety concern of those claims. None whatsoever,” she said on one occasion.
According to Jerry Topczewski, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s chief of staff, the motion was filed because the archdiocese needed “to be able to explain the facts behind the numbers in the claims process.”
He continued, “Although the judge denied the motion, she did a better job than we could have ever done in making sure the people understood that there is no child safety crisis, that the claims have been reviewed and she herself has personally reviewed them and is a more credible source in assuring people that perpetrators named in claims don’t pose a risk in the present day,” he said.
Topczewski said that new names had surfaced, but that the claimants’ attorneys had not gone far enough in providing an explanation.
“One, not all are diocesan priests but, two, regardless, whether they were or were not diocesan priests, it was found that they were dead, and obviously the deceased don’t pose a risk to anybody, or had been referred to the district attorney,” he said. “That’s been our policy since 2002. When we get a claim, if it’s against a priest that’s still alive, it’s either referred to the district attorney, if it’s one of our diocesan priests, or sent to the religious order that the priest belongs to – with a copy to the DA.”
Topczewski appreciated that Kelley had emphasized that there was no public safety crisis.
“As much as we try to assure people of that, the judge did a better job in a few sentences than we could ever do ourselves. That’s what we wanted to get out of the hearing anyway,” he said. “So the fact she denied the motion is kind of a moot point because she herself made it clear that there wasn’t a public safety concern.”
Without violating the court’s orders on confidentiality of the claims, Topczewski said, “What’s important to know is that of all the (new) claims, whatever the number is, only one is alleged to have occurred since 2002.”
He credits that to the archdiocese’s establishment of a safe environment program in the 1990s.
“We had safe environment programs in our schools, not to the extent we have today, but it was the start of it and you have to say, those programs and initiatives seem to be working, based on the fact there has been only one claim that alleges abuse since that date,” Topczewski said.
With Kelley’s ruling on the archdiocese’s motion, Topczewski said the archdiocese will continue to work toward resolution of the Chapter 11 proceedings.
“Our goals have always been two parts: Our plan of reorganization has to show how we can have a financial resolution with abuse survivors and continue to have the financial resources available to the church to continue its ministry in the community,” he said. “That’s where our energy is focused.”