Media Conference Statement - January 4, 2011
Today is the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and my one year anniversary of installation as Archbishop of Milwaukee. Little did I imagine, as I was welcomed by the people of Milwaukee last January 4, that one year later I would be making this announcement today.
After careful consideration, planning and much prayer, the archdiocese will file a petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code. Parishes, schools or other Catholic entities that are separately incorporated under state law – such as hospitals and charities – are not included in this filing.
In my installation homily on January 4, 2010, I spoke of the devastation of sin and its effect on us personally and as a community. We see the result of that sin today. This action is occurring because priest-perpetrators sexually abused minors, going against everything the Church and the priesthood represents.
Everything said today, or in any discussion of the impact of clergy abuse on the Church pales in comparison to the harm that has been done to the individual victim of clergy sexual abuse. The abuse was sinful and criminal. It was nothing less than deplorable. I will never stop praying that the healing power of Jesus Christ, in some way, can bring peace and reconciliation into their lives.
As a result of the horrendous actions of a few, there are financial claims pending against the archdiocese that exceed our means. Our recent failure to reach a mediated resolution with victims/survivors involved in lawsuits against the archdiocese, along with the November court decision that insurance companies are not bound to contribute to any financial settlement, made it clear that reorganization is the best way to fairly and equitably fulfill our obligations.
Our obligations include the commitment to:
- Do as much as we can, as fairly as we can, to compensate victims/survivors with unresolved claims – both those with claims pending and those who may come forward because of this proceeding.
- Carry on the essential ministries of the archdiocese so we can continue to meet the needs of our parishes, parishioners and others who rely upon the Church for assistance.
After consultation with advisors and with the archdiocesan finance council, I am convinced that a Chapter 11 reorganization is the best way to achieve these goals. It enables the archdiocese to use available funds to compensate all victims/survivors with unresolved claims in a single process overseen by a court, ensuring that all are treated equitably. In addition, by serving as a final call for legal claims against the archdiocese, the proceeding will allow the archdiocese to provide closure and resolution so we can move forward on stable financial ground, focused on our Gospel mission.
We will continue our outreach to victims/survivors as an ongoing ministry of the Church and a priority for this archdiocese. The archdiocese is working to the best of its ability to ensure nothing like this will ever happen again. In the past, we were part of the problem. We’ve since become leaders of the solution. Our stringent policies and practices, enforced by the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, are the most rigorous of any institution in the country and are keeping children safe.
Before taking this drastic action today, we worked for more than two decades to meet the spiritual and financial needs of victims/survivors.
- Since the late 1980s, we have directed increasing resources toward providing financial, psychological, pastoral and spiritual support to victims/survivors.
- Over the past 20 years, we have spent more than $29 million to cover costs associated with this tragedy. Since 2002, we have sold property, liquidated savings and investments, eliminated ministries and services, cut archdiocesan staff by nearly 40 percent, and put all available real estate on the market in order to free up resources. As a result, we have succeeded in reaching mediated settlements with nearly 200 individuals. But in the end, our available resources fell short.
Many Catholics may feel disheartened and frustrated by this development. I have experienced the same emotions. We are here because of one reason: priests sexually abused minors. For that, I feel deeply ashamed. As your archbishop, I apologize to victims/survivors for the harm, pain and suffering they are experiencing. I also want to apologize to all the faithful priests, religious and laity whose good works may have been tarnished by this ongoing tragedy.
While this bankruptcy does not apply to parishes, schools or other Catholic entities, I know it is a difficult time to be a Catholic, but with humble hearts our people persist. They come to Mass. They support parishes and schools. They contribute at record levels to support the mission of the Church. They do countless good works through Catholic organizations.
With their support, the Church can continue to serve hundreds of thousands of people and make major contributions to our communities, even as we proceed with this reorganization. Catholics carry on because they understand that while the human dimension of the Church mirrors all of humanity’s failings, the Holy Spirit guiding her ultimately prevails.
To the people of the archdiocese I say: Your faith is the rock on which we will build a renewed Church in southeastern Wisconsin. This is what gives me hope and confidence as we enter into this process. The reorganization process will have its challenges – a small penance to pay for the harm that has been done, but it will lay the groundwork for a new beginning. Like a damaged tree that is pruned drastically, I firmly believe our archdiocese will ultimately grow back, healthier and stronger, as long as our own faith remains rooted in Jesus Christ.
There will be many more questions to answer as we move through this legal process. Our Web site – www.archmil.org – will serve as a repository for information. I promise to share information as it becomes available in an open, candid and straightforward way.
In closing, I know that God is with us always, just as He is with each victim/survivor, each of their loved ones, and all the faithful who make up the Church. We are placing our trust in God, who is our strength and our hope, to lead the Church in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to a bright and stronger future.
God bless you all.