Milwaukee archdiocese offers to pay $21 M to settle claims of 330 sex abuse victims

Milwaukee Catholic Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki greets parishioners following his installation ceremony as the 11th Archbishop of the Milwaukee Archdiocese at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Jan. 4, 2010.Reuters

After years of bitter negotiations and protracted bankruptcy procedures, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee finally agreed to pay a $21-million settlement to more than 300 victims of sex abuse by its clergy.

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki called the settlement offer "a new Pentecost" that could end bankruptcy cases, which flooded the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and 11 other Roman Catholic dioceses due to clergy abuse claims since 2011.

"Today, we turn the page on a terrible part of our history and we embark on a new road lined with hope, forgiveness, and love," Listecki said in a statement that was released on Tuesday.

"This settlement represents for us in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee a new Pentecost, a day of rebirth that renews our focus on Word, worship and service," the Catholic Church official added, according to the New York Times.

Listecki made the announcement only three days after negotiations between the archdiocese, the creditors' committee, and attorneys for clergy abuse survivors were held.

As part of a reorganisation plan submitted to a bankruptcy court, the settlement proposed for 330 abuse victims calls for sharing the $21-million offer and a $500,000 "therapy fund" for the survivors.

"We do so remembering those who have been harmed; keeping them in our prayers; supporting them through therapy and healing; promising never to forget the evil that has been done; and working diligently to ensure this never happens again," Listecki said.

Listecki said the archdiocese had spent $19.75 million in legal fees during the protracted bankruptcy case that began with the filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in its bid to address its sex abuse lawsuit liabilities in 2011.

A judge overseeing the case will review the offer for settlement, which has been considered as the smallest per-victim payments, in a hearing set on Nov. 9. The amount each victim will receive will still be determined by an appointee of the bankruptcy court.

Lawyer Jeff Anderson, who represents the people who have filed 350 of the 570 bankruptcy claims, criticised the settlement proposal, saying it shows the "harsh and hurtful" treatment of the archdiocese to the clergy abuse victims.

"This process has been heartbreaking for many who have been treated so unfairly by hardball legal tactics," Anderson said, according the Los Angeles Times.

"The survivors continued to stand up for what was right, what they believed in, and to make sure the truth was brought to light. Because of them, children are better protected," he added.

David Clohessy, director of advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), also called the proposed deal "the largest mass betrayal of child sex abuse victims."

"(This is) the largest mass betrayal of child sex abuse victims we've ever seen by one diocese. And it's the most cunning exploitation of the advantages of bankruptcy rules by Catholic officials we've ever seen," Clohessy said.

Peter Isely, director of SNAP Midwest, claimed that the average settlement amount per victim will be a paltry $44,000 after the court subtracted attorneys' fees. He said the average settlement amount in all other US church bankruptcy cases, minus attorneys' fees, is $300,000.

The archdiocese clarified there will be no payment to settle 157 claims, which had previously been disallowed or dismissed, were not for sexual abuse, did not name the abuser or where a financial settlement had already been paid.

Reports said 92 others with unsubstantiated claims, or where abuse occurred by someone at a non-archdiocesan organisation, will also get nothing from the settlement proposal.