Milwaukee archdiocese to pay settlements to abuse victims in Calif.

.- The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has reached an out-of-court settlement with 10 victims of sexual abuse by clergy in California. The lawsuits involved two priests who were transferred to California in the late 1970’s.

The agreement will pay the victims $16.65 million. The plaintiffs said they were abused by priests who had been allowed to transfer from Wisconsin to California, in spite of histories of molesting children.

The abuse was committed by two former Milwaukee priests: Siegfried Widera, now deceased, and Franklyn Becker, now laicized.

The suits could not have been brought in Wisconsin. But, in 2002, the California Legislature approved a one-year period for victims of sexual abuse to sue without any time limit, and the courts ruled that a Wisconsin institution could be sued there.

Although the abuse took place before Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s arrival to Milwaukee, the archbishop was involved in the two-day court-ordered mediation on the recommendation of a Los Angeles judge. He also met with six of the plaintiffs.

Under the agreement, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will pay $8.25 million through current financial holdings, including properties owned by the archdiocese and the liquidation of some short- and long-term investments, says a statement issued by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Included in this sum will be the proceeds from the sale of the Archbishop Cousins Catholic Center, which were initially intended to benefit Saint Francis Seminary and the formation of seminarians, and other property that had been designated for future pastoral, educational or charitable ministries.

This agreement will not affect any parish property. The rest of the settlement will be paid by insurance.

“Our hope, always, is to continue our progress in reaching resolution with anyone who was a victim of clergy sexual abuse,” says Archbishop Dolan in a statement. “We believe this agreement brings closure to all the cases in California and, hopefully, provides healing for victims/survivors.”

The archbishop said the settlement also allows the archdiocese to continue its work toward resolution with victims locally and to continue its ministry and work throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

He said a priority for the archdiocese is continued outreach to abuse local victims and “diligent attention to our effective policies to see that such abuse will not occur in the future.” 

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