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Milwaukee archdiocese bankruptcy may protect priests

The exterior of a Catholic church building.
The exterior of a Catholic church building.

MILWAUKEE (WSAU) Advocates for sex abuse victims say the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese is trying to protect its secrets – and not its assets – by declaring bankruptcy. The church filed for Chapter-11 protections yesterday, and it’s reported to be the eighth U-S diocese to do so.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki said the compensation sought by victims of pedophile priests exceed the church’s means because of quote, “the horrific actions of a few.” He said the ability to reorganize its finances under Chapter-11 is the best way for the church to fairly meet its obligations.

But attorney Jeff Anderson and the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests say the move delays justice, by holding up action on lawsuits filed by over a dozen priest abuse victims in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. They said one of the church’s goals is to keep retired Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba quiet – so he doesn’t make a scheduled deposition in the lawsuits. Critics said Sklba was a key person in helping former Archbishop Rembert Weakland quietly move abusive priests to new parishes where they could offend again.

Talks to settle the lawsuits broke down. And a court recently said the church cannot tap insurance to pay the abuse victims. Listecki said both those developments resulted in the bankruptcy move. The archbishop said it would not affect individual parishes and religious schools, because they’re separately incorporated. But a bankruptcy judge could rule otherwise. A Villanova professor says parishes in Spokane, Washington and Tucson, Arizona were asked to pay for part of the settlements after those dioceses went bankrupt.