Archbishop considers proactive solutions to settle with victims, protect archdiocese

.- In an attempt to prepare for future settlements, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee plans to sell its Archbishop Cousins Center near Lake Michigan as 10 lawsuits by victims of clergy sexual abuse move toward trials in California. The underused complex includes 415,000 square feet of office space on a 44-acre site.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has been named in lawsuits filed in California by 10 people under a controversial law, which was passed by the California Legislature in 2002. The law allowed victims of sexual abuse to sue dioceses for failure to report and discipline abusive priests, regardless of the statute of limitations.

More than 800 people filed lawsuits, including more than 500 against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Nine cases involve the late Siegfried Widera, a former Milwaukee priest. The tenth involves Franklyn Becker, also a former Milwaukee priest.

In cases involving Widera, the plaintiffs allege the sexual abuse they suffered in California occurred because the Archdiocese of Milwaukee failed to adequately warn the Diocese of Orange about Widera’s history and failed to provide monitoring of his activities after he moved to California. The Widera cases are set to come to trial in November.

The California appeals court and the California Superior Court have ruled that California courts have the right to assert jurisdiction over the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Katherine Freberg, an attorney representing eight of those alleging abuse, said the Archdiocese of Milwaukee expressed interest in seeking settlements but also raised the possibility of bankruptcy filing, reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"Going into bankruptcy would be extremely painful and would only come after extensive consultation with the advisory groups of the archdiocese, and as a last resort," a church spokesman told the Journal Sentinel.

In a message published in the Catholic Herald, Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan sought to inspire hope in Milwaukee’s 700,000 faithful in the face of the difficult situation.  Archbishop Dolan said that prior to the legal proceedings and expected media attention he wished to proactively inform the faithful of the steps the Archdiocese is taking.

However, he was frank in saying that the financial impact of the lawsuits is unknown at this time. “The resources of the archdiocese are very limited,” he added.

“We are insisting that our insurance providers come forward,” the archbishop assured. “We are scrupulous in preserving and protecting the funds that must be available for crucial church services, such as our Catholic Charities, our annual Catholic Stewardship Appeal, our pension funds, and donations given only for the charitable, educational, and pastoral ministries of the archdiocese.”

The archbishop listed the extensive programs and services, totaling $11 million, which have been offered to victims and their families, including counseling, compensation and the establishment of the Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response Services Office.

Dolan promised his readers that he would, “continue to apologize for the hurt of so many - victims/survivors, families, the faithful, our priests…be as honest as possible in letting you all know what’s going on…(and) strive diligently to prevent this from ever happening again.”

But he warned that the settlement talks and upcoming trial would reopen past wounds within the archdiocese among the victims, the faithful, and the priests, “97 percent of who have always acted appropriately in loving, proper, and caring ways with our youth.”


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