ST. FRANCIS – As the Archdiocese of Milwaukee develops a Plan for Reorganization for its post-Chapter 11 operation, one component of the plan will be a ministry already in place: Outreach to those abused by diocesan priests.

In a Nov. 21 communiqué to recipients of his weekly “Love One Another” message, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki explained the archdiocese’s intent.

“As part of the Plan of Reorganization, we will ask the bankruptcy judge to allow us to establish a fund dedicated to providing therapy and counseling to abuse victims of diocesan clergy,” he wrote, noting that the fund “will be launched with an initial contribution of $300,000.”

The fund, according the archbishop, will provide payments for therapy “for as long as abuse victims come forward for such assistance.”

“I have stated previously, and want to emphasize again, that beyond financial settlements, outreach and assistance to abuse survivors is an ongoing and permanent ministry of the church,” Archbishop Listecki wrote. “The most important thing we as a church can and must do, is to continue to provide therapy assistance to those who have been harmed, even if their claims are not recognized under civil law, which may be the case for certain of the claims filed against the archdiocese in the Chapter 11 proceeding.”

This week the archdiocese’s attorneys were scheduled to file separate motions asking the court which claims it would allow, including those that were past the statute of limitations; claims brought by those who had already reached a legal settlement with the archdiocese; and claims against a person who never was an employee of the archdiocese.

“The decision of the court about which claims qualify under the law allows the Plan of Reorganization to provide equitable compensation to abuse survivors while continuing the ongoing work and ministry of the church,” the archbishop wrote. “The establishment of the therapy fund ensures that both these goals are met and that abuse survivors of diocesan clergy – whether they have a claim allowed by the bankruptcy court or not – will be able to receive the therapy assistance they need.”

Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, told your Catholic Herald Nov. 22 that discussion about the therapy fund had occurred during the last few months as the archdiocese prepares for life after Chapter 11. He noted that during the early weeks of the bankruptcy, the archdiocese had filed, and the court approved, a motion that allowed the archdiocese to continue providing counseling and therapy for abuse victims

“A big concern, abuse survivors have said, is that people get the help they need. It’s not the financial component that is the prime motivator,” he said. “So the question is how can we assure someone who is eligible under the bankruptcy proceeding or not that we have a system in place that individuals will still be able to get the therapeutic help they need. That’s where the idea of the fund came.”

Topczewski noted that the archdiocese has paid “on average” $70,000 for victims’ therapy and counseling over the last three years.

“(The therapy fund) is just a way of quantifying a piece that says we take providing this therapy seriously; we want the court to take it seriously in approving our plan so that this is a sign of how important this is as a component of any plan of reorganization,” he said, noting that the ministry is for victims who were abused by diocesan clergy. “This has become a permanent ministry of the church, outreach to abuse survivors, so we have to demonstrate that in our reorganization.”

Topczewski said the fund is a “pastoral component” in the reorganization plan.

“We can never say the Chapter 11 is over so now we’re never going to deal with abuse survivors again,” he said. “We’re always going to reaching out to them.”

He said the Plan for Reorganization will do two things: Show how the archdiocese will operate and how it will settle the claims that have been brought against it. Feb. 1, 2012 is the bar date by which victims of abuse by diocesan clergy can file claims with the court. 

Noting that there had been “a lot of discussion with the creditors’ committee in how we can settle those claims,” Topczewski continued, “You can’t come up with a plan of how to settle the claims until you know how many claims you have. Thus, the Feb. 1 bar date,” he said.  “We have to know which claims qualify under bankruptcy law. The court has to say these claims qualify, these claims don’t, so we know what we’re dealing with for the financial piece.”