Archdiocese wins latest dispute in bankruptcy over sex abuse
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee won a victory in its bankruptcy on Thursday in a dispute that turned on the promise of confidentially granted victims of childhood sex abuse when they brought allegations forward.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley refused to compel the archdiocese to provide attorneys for one group of abuse survivors with unredacted documents that could potentially identify other survivors who had an expectation of anonymity.
Instead, Kelley agreed to review dozens of abuse claims to see if there was evidence that would warrant a limited — and still not public — release of the documents, with names of victims and or witnesses.
“I’m denying the motion,” Kelley told attorneys for five abuse survivors.
“I’m sorry,” Kelley said, “but I have to weigh what I think is the fairness… and the rights of these people.”
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is in the fifth year of a complex and contentious bankruptcy to address allegations of sexual abuse by priests. The abuse claims accuse the church of defrauding victims by moving problem priests from post to post without divulging their histories. The archdiocese is attempting to get the claims dismissed.
The latest skirmish stems from a summary judgment motion filed by the archdiocese to move ahead with its objections to 11 of the claims.
Attorneys for the 11 said they needed the unredacted documents to adequately respond to the summary judgment in five of those cases. In those five, the archdiocese asserts it had no prior complaints about the offending priests at the time these victims reported their abuse. Michael Finnegan, whose firm represents the 11, said the veracity of that assetion can’t be determined without speaking to witnesses whose names have been redacted in the documents.
Archdiocese attorney Frank LoCoco objected, saying the release could breach the confidentiality of victims, some of whom don’t what even their families to know they were abused.
“They’re looking for a needle in a haystack,” said LoCoco. “It’s not legally right, and it’s not morally right.”