Clergy sex abuse claims drive Archdiocese of Milwaukee to file for bankruptcy

Chief of Staff for Milwaukee Catholic Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki (L), Jerry Topczewski, said the Archdiocese could now "turn the page on this sad chapter".Reuters

A Catholic Archdiocese in the US on Monday filed for bankruptcy as part of a $21 million settlement with victims of clergy sexual abuse.

More than 300 victims will be compensated with the money, including 33 individuals who were left out of an earlier settlement plan.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee, in Wisconsin, originally filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2011 after failing to reach a settlement with 24 victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. To date, an estimated 570 people have filed claims, though 157 of these are to receive no financial compensation, according to the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

One of the most significant allegations is that Rev Lawrence Murphy, a priest who taught at the former St John School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, molested up to 200 boys between 1950 and the 1970s. In 1974, he admitted to sexually abusing boys while at the school, including during the sacrament of penance and confession, but died in 2005 before his canonical trial could be completed. He was never defrocked.

The archdiocese has already paid more than $30 million in settlements and court costs. Spokesman Jerry Topczewski told Associated Press that church officials are hopeful that the latest bankruptcy plan will be approved by a judge when it is reviewed in court this November.

"We're confident she will appreciate the work that's been done getting to this point," he said.

In an email to the Sentinel, Topczewski added that the plan would allow the archdiocese to "turn the page on this sad chapter".

Milwaukee is one of several archdioceses in the US to file for bankruptcy over sex abuse claims. The Catholic Church has been rocked by allegations over the past few years, and last year the Vatican admitted that it had defrocked almost 850 priests in the past decade as a result.

Pope Francis has denounced clerical abuse as "intolerable" and "the most terrible and unclean thing imaginable".