MILWAUKEE – The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee expects to file its bankruptcy reorganization plan Monday, formalizing a recent settlement deal that will divvy up $21 million among more than 300 victims of clergy sex abuse.
Church lawyers have until midnight to submit the documents and were "dotting the I's" on various forms throughout the day, archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said.
The archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2011 to address its sex abuse lawsuit liabilities. The bankruptcy plan is scheduled for review in November, and church officials are "hopeful this is approved by the judge," Topczewski said.
"We're confident she will appreciate the work that's been done getting to this point," he added.
The creditors' committee, which comprises five abuse victims, is expected to endorse the deal, committee chairman Charles Linneman said.
Victims' advocates have criticized several aspects of the agreement, and Peter Isely, Midwest director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he and others will work to address key issues, including getting more claims included in the settlement, before bankruptcy Judge Susan Kelley reviews the case this fall.
"There's a window of time between now and November where we can make some things happen," he said.
Despite his misgivings, Isely acknowledges that many abuse survivors are ready to move on and will accept the deal to put the case behind them.
The settlement had been a sticking point that stalled a previous reorganization plan filed last year, but this agreement should conclude a yearslong process that has revealed the scope of the Milwaukee organization's involvement in a widespread clergy sex abuse scandal that has rocked the church.
In response to the crisis, which reached a boiling point in 2002, the church made sweeping reforms meant to stop molesters and help victims, including a pledge to investigate claims and oust abusers. Bishops also enacted safeguards for children, requiring background checks and special training.
A dozen Catholic dioceses nationwide have filed for bankruptcy in the past decade over abuse claims. Milwaukee's settlement, announced in early August, includes some of the smallest per-victim payments, another heavily criticized aspect of the deal.
"We weren't happy with the settlement amount," Linneman said, "but it was the most we were going to get."
Under terms of the deal, 330 abuse survivors will share $21 million, and a $500,000 therapy fund will be established for ongoing counseling. All of the archdiocese's parishes, schools and institutions, meanwhile, would be protected from lawsuits related to past abuse claims.
Kelley didn't respond to a request seeking comment on how she might rule.