Milwaukee’s bankruptcy plan approved, provides $21 million for survivors

MILWAUKEE — A nearly five-year chapter in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s history came to a close Nov. 9, when Chief Judge Susan V. Kelley of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin approved the archdiocese’s plan of reorganization.

The plan calls for $21 million to be paid to 355 abuse survivors. It also includes a $500,000 therapy fund that will allow all survivors to receive counseling for as long as they need it.

The hearing, which concluded a process that began Jan. 4, 2011, when the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, drew the largest attendance to any of the proceedings. More than a dozen attorneys representing the archdiocese, the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, other claimants, the archdiocesan Cemetery Trust, insurance companies and other entities were present. Also attending were Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, representatives from the archdiocese and more than a dozen abuse victim survivors.

In stating the case number — 11-20059 — to open the hearing, Kelley added, “I’m hoping I never have another case that I memorize the case number on.”

Attorneys for the archdiocese and the claimants, most of whom were represented by the creditors’ committee, entered mediation — which was not ordered by the court — July 15-17 and came to an agreement on the plan for reorganization. Mediation attempts in 2012 and 2014 had failed.

After Kelley approved the archdiocese’s disclosure statement for the plan of reorganization Sept. 30, claimants had until Nov. 3 to vote for rejection or acceptance of the plan. Attorneys for the claimants had encouraged them to accept the plan.

Kelley granted a request by Frank LoCoco, one of the archdiocese’s attorneys, for Archbishop Listecki to speak in court. After thanking the judge for her time and for “handling the complexities of this case,” the archbishop continued, “I apologize to the victims and their families for what they endured under these clergy who exercised criminal and immoral behavior. There is no resolution that will ever bring back what the victims have lost and their families have suffered.”

The archbishop told the victims their courage to come forward and to tell their stories made a difference.

“A change has occurred, and that change is the changing of the consciousness of the archdiocese and dioceses across the nation to pay attention in any way, shape or form to those things that may endanger our children,” he said.

Noting that the archdiocese will return to its charitable, educational and spiritual work, the archbishop added, “But having said that, we will never forget this moment. It has and continues to shape us as we continue into the future.”

The reorganization plan stipulates that Archbishop Listecki will meet personally with any victim requesting a meeting.

At various times throughout the one-hour, 46-minute hearing, Kelley encouraged victims to speak. Kevin Schultz said that he, his brother, and two sisters were all abused by the same priest.

“It caused a rift in our family. We didn’t talk about it until 2005,” he said. “In 2005, the archdiocese provided me with help. I’m better now, but I’m still dealing with it on a daily basis. I’ve gone through a divorce, and my daughter doesn’t speak to me. I can’t set a foot in church, but I would like to get closer to God.”

Schultz said he still asks God why this happened to them.

“It shouldn’t have happened. It should have been stopped, but they (the archdiocese) moved him (the abuser) from parish to parish. We were left helpless,” he said. “The church should not even come out of bankruptcy. … They are not the church Jesus started.”

Kelley told the court, “Hopefully, as the archbishop said, a page can be turned, some resolution can be had, and with therapy provided, there can be some peace for the survivors.”