The names of all priests accused of abuse in the Milwaukee archdiocese bankruptcy case need to be released and an independent investigation of all 570 sexual abuse complaints need to be conducted before the reorganization plan is approved, according to Peter Isely, Midwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
Isely spoke to NCR following a press conference about the organization held on the steps of the federal courthouse in Milwaukee where the bankruptcy case is being heard by Judge Susan V. Kelley. The case was filed almost five years after the first of four mediations failed to result in a settlement.
The original plan filed with the bankruptcy court offered $4 million in compensation that would have been shared by 128 of the 570 who filed complaints; the rest would have received nothing. The revised plan filed with the court on Monday Aug. 24 offers $21 million to more victims but still denies compensation to 124, some of whom had received earlier settlements.
Isely said the focus of the news conference was not money but other aspects of the case, specifically whether there are any accused of abuse still in active ministry or retired who still serve as priests.
"It's a question of whether children are being protected," he said.
According to the archdiocese, 99 percent of the priests accused are not in the ministry but SNAP asserts that those figures are only for those in claims that were substantiated by the archdiocese. An independent examination of the cases is necessary, they say.
"There needs to be an independent law enforcement review of the 100 priests who were named in the complaints filed by the more than 500 survivors who came forward and filed complaints with the court," Isely said. "Those doing the investigation must be approved by the survivors and not just the archdiocese."
In the plan just filed, the archdiocese noted that it had a review procedure.
Isely pointed to the case of Fr. Robert Marsicek, a religious order priest who was investigated in 2013 but not charged after a teacher raised concerns about what she considered sexually inappropriate contact with a child at Wauwatosa Catholic School. Both Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki and his predecessor, Timothy Dolan (now cardinal of New York) had been aware that Marsicek, a priest with the Society of the Divine Savior, was under investigation in Sacramento, Calif., and that he had been counseled by both the archdiocese and his order about "boundary issues," according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. After news accounts, Marsicek was removed from his post at St. Pius X Parish and Mother of Good Counsel.
The claims that have been disallowed by the archdiocese should also be examined separately by an independent examiner approved by both the archdiocese and the committee of creditors, a group of survivors who have filed claims against the archdiocese.
Isely also said there needs to be a thorough and independent examination of the transfer of some $57 million from the archdiocesan general fund into the Cemetery Trust Fund for the perpetual care of nine cemeteries owned by the archdiocese. The archdiocese maintains that the money was always set aside specifically for the care of the cemeteries but was moved to comply with state law.
"The Cemetery Trust fund needs to be investigated to answer questions of fraud," Isely said. "If there is no independent investigation it will make a mockery of the bankruptcy system."
[Marie Rohde is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.]