Archdiocese of Milwaukee files for Chapter 11

Here are excerpts from a letter from Jerome Listecki, Archbishop of Milwuakee, on the occasion of announcing that his archdiocese is filing for bankruptcy (press release here).  I've not posted recently on such matters but I found Archbishop Listecki's letter to be so remorseful and hopeful, direct and effective, that I wanted to share it with you.

Please join me in praying for all victims of sexual abuse and for the Church in southeastern Wisconsin.

From Listecki's letter:
After consultation with archdiocesan advisors and after my own prayerful consideration, this morning I directed attorneys for the archdiocese to file a petition for a Chapter 11 reorganization of its financial affairs under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

In my installation homily on January 4, 2010, I spoke of the devastation of sin and its effect on us personally and as a community. We see the result of that sin today. This action is occurring because priest-perpetrators sexually abused minors, going against everything the Church and the priesthood represents.

In taking this action, we have two goals. First, we want to do as much as we can, as fairly as we can, to compensate victims/survivors with unresolved claims – both those with claims pending and those who will come forward because of this proceeding. Second, we want to carry on the essential ministries of the archdiocese so we can continue to meet the needs of our parishes, parishioners and others who rely upon the Church for assistance.
As a Church, we have worked for more than two decades to meet the needs of victims/survivors without taking this drastic action. Since the late 1980s, we have directed increasing resources toward providing financial, psychological, pastoral and spiritual support to victims/survivors. Over the past 20 years, we have spent more than $29 million to cover costs associated with this tragedy. Since 2002, we have sold property, liquidated savings and investments, eliminated ministries and services, cut archdiocesan staff by nearly 40 percent, and put all available real estate on the market in order to free up resources. As a result, we have succeeded in reaching mediated settlements with more than 190 individuals. But in the end, our available resources fell short.

This bankruptcy proceeding applies only to the archdiocese itself. Parishes, schools or other Catholic entities that are separately incorporated under state law are not affected by this filing.

Many of you may feel disheartened and frustrated by this development. I have experienced the same emotions. For those who may feel anger and resentment that we have come to this moment, STOP. We are here because of one reason: priests sexually abused minors. For that, I feel deeply ashamed. As your bishop, I apologize to victims/survivors for the harm, pain and suffering they are experiencing.

I also want to apologize to all the faithful priests, religious and laity whose good works may have been tarnished by this ongoing tragedy. This can be a difficult time to be a Catholic.

But with humble hearts you persist. You come to Mass. You support your parishes and schools. You contribute at record levels to support the mission of the Church. You do countless good works through Catholic organizations. With you, the Church will continue to serve hundreds of thousands of people, making major contributions to our communities, even as we proceed with this reorganization. You carry on because you understand that while the human dimension of the Church mirrors all of humanity’s failings, the Holy Spirit guiding her ultimately prevails.

Your faith is the rock on which we will build a renewed Church in southeastern Wisconsin. This is what gives me hope and confidence as we enter into this process. Just as the pain and suffering of those who have been harmed is beyond imagining, our financial reorganization will be painful, as it should be. This process will lay the groundwork for a new beginning. Like a damaged tree that is pruned drastically, I firmly believe our archdiocese will ultimately grow back, healthier and stronger, as long as our own faith remains rooted in Jesus Christ.

(Read the entire letter here)

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  1. I agree that the Archbishop's letter was beautifully written and showed genuine remorse. I have heard similar remorse expressed by our bishop. But I cannot quite agree with his statement that there is only one reason we are at this point - that "priests sexually abused minors." While that was certainly the initial sin, in our diocese at least (and from what I have read in the Milwaukee diocese as well), I believe that the bishops are also responsible. Were it not for their attempts to hide the problem by moving offending priests to other parishes or dioceses, the problem would be much smaller and fewer young people would have been subjected to abuse. I was teaching in a Catholic school during the outing of an abusive pastor. Everyone knew what he was doing but when the bishop finally chose to act, he only moved him to a different diocese where he quickly reoffended. Unfortunately this happened often. Why haven't the bishops taken responsibility for their part in the abuse. I refuse to believe that they did not know these priests would reoffend.

  2. I find the Bishop's letter to be heartfelt, honest, remorseful, very sincere, and it gave me great hope that other Bishops may read it and it may help them to come to terms with their own responsibilities. Unfortunately, the "crisis" isn't over, as many would like to think, and we will all feel the effects of it for many years. There has been so much cover up and denial, we have all paid the price....and continue to do so. My hope is that great good will come out of great evil, and we will ALL be stronger, more faithfilled, more understanding, more loving, and better people.

  3. Bishop Listecki’s letter is remorseful and direct. However, it’s only part of the story. I agree with Anonymous and apc who said he left out at least one other reason the diocese is on the hook for such large payouts. That reason is the complicit bishops, who transferred the abusers and enabled them to abuse again. If they reported the offending priests to the police, they would have been stopped and the damaged contained.

    According to David Clohessy, the National Director of SNAP, “In each case where a bishop seeks to exploit US bankruptcy protection, it's on the eve of a trial or deposition at which top church staff would have to face tough questions under oath about their complicity in clergy sex crimes. This is not about protecting church assets. It's about protecting bishops' secrets.”

    Jeff Smith, the victims’ attorney said, “Incredibly, the Archbishop’s announcement left out the most important reason they filed for bankruptcy: To delay the legal process so they don’t have to reveal the names of the “priest-predators” and the Church officials who covered up the “priest-predators’” crimes. It is interesting that this action comes on the precipice of the taking of depositions of Church leaders who have the most to hide.”

    The bankruptcy filing comes just before the deposition of an important church official, Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba, who until his recent retirement served alongside three successive archbishops of Milwaukee. A lawyer for Bishop Sklba was trying to have that deposition sealed. Former Archbishop Rembert Weakland, (who confessed to paying a man $ 450,000 in return for silence about their homosexual relationship more than two decades ago) described Bishop Sklba as the “go to guy” on the abuse cover up for at least two decades. In other words, it is Sklba, even more than Weakland, who has the all the damaging details concerning the pattern and practice of fraud and cover up.

    Other officials expected to be deposed include the former archbishop of Milwaukee Timothy M. Dolan, now archbishop of New York, who was recently elected as the President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bankruptcy filing will almost certainly delay the depositions, although they could eventually proceed.

    Finally, the archdiocese announced that victim/survivors in mediation with archbishop Jerome Listecki turned down a monetary settlement. They did not.

    What they rejected was Listecki’s demand that only money, and nothing else, will be discussed between the archdiocese and the victims in these cases. Victims have been crystal clear with the archbishop from the start of mediation: child protection first, individual compensation and restitution second.

    Victims have asked that 13 specific child protection proposals be discussed and agreed to in mediation. The principle three proposals are:
    1. The release of all files pertaining to predator clergy of the archdiocese.
    2. The release of the full list of all clergy known to have abused children in the archdiocese, including religious order offenders.
    3. That every priest in the archdiocese, including archbishop Listecki sign a document, under oath, that they have never sexually abused a child and know of no other member of the clergy that has abused a child.

    Not only has the archbishop not agreed to any of these points, he won’t even discuss them. Regardless, victims are ready to go back to the table with the archbishop when he is ready.


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