MILWAUKEE — Clergy sex abuse victims have long accused the Archdiocese of Milwaukee of spending more money on lawyers to protect itself than to care for those who suffered at the hands of abusive priests. An Associated Press analysis of documents released this week found most of the $30 million the archdiocese paid out through mid-2012 went to victim settlements and therapy, but the bulk of it went to just a few victims — while hundreds of others got no money at all.
The archdiocese released the records as part of a deal with victims suing it for fraud in federal bankruptcy court. The documents cover 88 settlements worth at least $6.6 million and provide the first detailed look at which victims were paid, how much and when. Until this week, the archdiocese had only released annual totals.
The records support victims’ longtime claim that Wisconsin for many years was among the more difficult states for them to get compensation. The main reason was a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling in 1995 that made it nearly impossible to hold the church responsible for its priests’ actions. The court said the church was protected from negligence lawsuits by the First Amendment. No longer afraid of litigation, the archdiocese established a no-settlement policy that lasted until the national clergy abuse scandal erupted in 2002.
“It was an appalling decision,” said Peter Isely, a longtime activist who now serves as the Midwest director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Because (Milwaukee victims) were raped and sexually assaulted by a priest, unlike anywhere else in the country, they could not exercise their civil rights and file their case in court.”
It’s impossible to say for certain how much money clergy sex abuse victims have received from the Milwaukee archdiocese, because accounting before 2003 is questionable. Annual reports released by the archdiocese since then put the total cost of clergy sex abuse at $30.5 million as of June 30, 2012, with roughly $3 out of every $4 spent in the past decade going to victim settlements, therapy and other aid.
An update for the fiscal year that just ended has not yet been compiled.