MILWAUKEE: “the largest mass betrayal of victims we’ve ever seen by one diocese” - SNAP
People often ask if the clergy abuse scandal is over. Recently, in response to the question, Cardinal Dolan cavalierly replied “That’s all over now.” Sorry Cardinal but its not all over and the proposed settlement in the Milwaukee bankruptcy process is solid proof.
To quote an article I wrote in May: “The disgusting charade going on in Milwaukee was cooked up by and is sustained by Dolan and Listecki.” The outrageous proposed settlement is not the result of reasonable negotiations. Jeff Anderson, the attorney who represented 300 victims, said “ the archdiocese of Milwaukee has played hardball and has used tactics from the start that have beaten down the survivors’ community and left the committee with no good choices.” Add to that the appalling tactics the church lawyers employed in cooking up the proposal and Jeff’s assessment pretty much sums it up.
A few weeks ago Francis LoCoco, Listecki’s lead lawyer, threatened to spend down the phony cemetery trust that Cardinal Dolan created to try to divert $56 million, by challenging the validity of every claim of the nearly 400 remaining survivor-claimants. The survivors had already been treated with more than enough cruelty brought on by the hard-ball legal tactics. Continued litigation would have resulted in more insult, pain and debasement. The archbishop and his lawyers forced them to accept a grossly unjust and unreasonable option in exchange for one that was even worse.
A word of clarification. It is common to refer to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee as the entity responsible for the bankruptcy process but its not the archdiocese, which is made up of several hundred thousand people, including presumably all of the claimants. It’s safe to presume that a fair number of these people view the settlement proposal and the entire process just as the claimants do. No, it’s not the archdiocese, it’s the archbishop who is responsible.
In his otherwise unbelievable statement on Aug. 4, Archbishop Listecki did say one thing that is true: “Today we turn the page on a terrible part of our history.” He’s dead right. It is a terrible chapter in the history of the archdiocese and he and his immediate predecessor are responsible for making it so.
When the bankruptcy process started over four years ago it was not because the archdiocese was on the verge of insolvency. It was a tactic to avoid having to face and possibly compensate the seventeen cases pending at the time. It was also a way to try to prevent disclosure of even more documentary evidence of the terrible treatment of clergy victims over the years. At the outset Archbishop Listecki openly invited all who were sexually abused to come forward assuring them that “nothing will prevent me from making every possible effort at moving forward toward healing and resolution with those who have been harmed.” The victims came forward, unaware that Listecki did not mean a word he said but rather planned to have his lawyers disqualify every one of the 575 victims who filed claims. This they set about to do which is how they managed to burn through nearly $26 million, all for legal fees which is twice as much as they are offering the victims and six times as much as the victims would have gotten had they not accepted the current plan.
I have often said that the sexual abuse nightmare, a chapter of which we have been part of since 1983, is not over and will never be over as long as the system and the self-serving mindset that created it still exists. The Milwaukee debacle, which actually began in the 1950’s when Archbishop Meyer sent Fr. Lawrence Murphy on retreat for sexually violating deaf boys rather than firing him, still goes on. Archbishop Listecki’s “new Pentecost” is a meaningless insult to survivors and his “new road lined with hope, forgiveness and love” is rhetorical nonsense given the reality of the hundreds of victims who have been brutalized for years and continue to be insulted and demeaned by the proposed settlement. Does this look like the radical change of heart and actions that are the only sure signs that an end is in sight? Hardly!
Behind Listecki’s “holier-than-thou” statement looms the appalling and duplicitous actions of he and his lawyers in forcing the settlement. Peter Isely’s statement and the online NCR article by Marie Rhode on August 10 describe them in some detail. The main points need to be stressed to get greater clarity of the hypocrisy:
-At least 80 victims were secretly removed from the settlement without the creditor committee’s knowledge, among them appear to be the deaf victims of Fr. Murphy
-The five survivors on the committee were given nothing in writing about the settlement, were not allowed in the mediation to see any of the case reports of the victims they represented and were not told when the settlement was going to be announced
-The archdiocesan lawyers and Listecki decided unilaterally which claims were valid
-Among the 575 claims that came forth 100 involved newly alleged clergy perpetrators. The archbishop decided without any investigation that none were a danger to children.
This travesty brings even more discredit and disgrace to the already tarnished office of bishop. It is also an insulting and arrogant perversion of the federal bankruptcy process and it surely justifies every debasing pejorative joke about lawyers.
David Clohessy of SNAP described it as “the largest mass betrayal of victims we’ve ever seen by one diocese.” One of the survivor-advocates said it is the most destructive church response he knew of. Both are right but what makes their assessments even more painful is that this is 2015, thirty-one years after the U.S. bishops became collectively aware of the fact that their traditional way of responding to sex abuse victims was both humanly destructive and spiritually deadly. There’s no question that in the hierarchy there are men who truly “get it” and strive to respond as Christians rather than loyal Churchmen. Sadly though there are probably more who still see the victims as the enemy, to be defeated at all costs, a pathetic example of which is still happening in Milwaukee. As a group, have the bishops learned anything? All the safety plans for children of the future are meaningless if the Church’s leaders don’t know how to treat the victims of the past.
Dolan, Listecki and their squadron of attorneys either fail to see what this is really all about or they have rejected it. It’s not about preserving the financial stability of the Archdiocese nor is it about what most archbishops and bishops find unimaginable, losing. It is about treating the men and women, whose bodies and souls were violated, as Jesus Christ would treat them.
Thomas P. Doyle; 19 August 2015