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January 4th, 2011
02:10 PM ET

Abusive priest suits force archdiocese to file for bankruptcy

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

The Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee is filing for bankruptcy protection, it announced Tuesday, citing the cost of lawsuits filed against priests by victims of sexual abuse.

"This action is occurring because priest-perpetrators sexually abused minors," the archdiocese said in a statement announcing it was filing for Chapter 11 protection.

Milwaukee was home to Father Lawrence Murphy, who was accused of molesting as many as 200 deaf boys at St. John's School for the Deaf over the course of decades. He resigned from the post in 1974 and died in 1998.

One of his alleged victims attempted to sue the Vatican to force it to release the names of thousands of Catholic priests against whom credible accusations have been filed. The Vatican said the suit had no merit.

Arthur Budzinski, a deaf man who said he was sexually assaulted and raped by Murphy, talked about the abuse in a news conference about the lawsuit last year.

He said the priest "may have stolen our bodies," but higher clerics such as cardinals, archbishops and the pope "stole our voices."

He made his comments in sign language and his daughter, Gigi, interpreted his words.

The archdiocese has failed to reach an out-of-court settlement with victims, and a court ruled in November that insurance companies were not required to help it pay off abuse claims, it said.

That forced it to file for bankruptcy protection, it said.

It said it had two goals: "fairly" compensating victims and carrying on its "essential ministries."

But a lawyer representing victims rejected the explanation.

"The reality is that this is being done for one reason - to hide the names of those who have offended kids and those that have covered it up in the archdiocese for years," said Jeff Anderson, who represents 23 victims.

But bankruptcy will only delay the process, not stop it, he argued, saying other diocese had also filed for protection.

"In all instances it has caused delays but ... never succeeded in avoiding the public disclosure of some of their crimes," he told CNN.

The head of a victims' group blasted the decision to file for bankruptcy.

"It's always distressing when supposed 'shepherds' act like callous CEOs," said David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"This is about protecting church secrets, not church assets. The goal here is to prevent top church managers from being questioned under oath about their complicity, not 'compensating victims fairly,'" he told CNN.

Milwaukee becomes at least the ninth American diocese to file for bankruptcy protection since 2004, according to BishopAccountability.org, a database of publicly reported information about abuse allegations.

CNN's Alan Duke and Hada Messia contributed to this report.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Catholic Church

soundoff (346 Responses)
  1. Chen

    Screw the money. JAIL TIME FOR ALL PRIESTS ~put them into general population. They deserve all the bad karma that comes their way. How dare the Vatican help with these cover ups-shame on them! The Catholic church should not be above the law! They also should be denied filing for bankruptcy ........The church was not there for me and my family when my parents got divorced in 1967-they turned their backs on us then and I still shudder with the shame they placed on our family! Signed a Recovering Catholic!

    January 4, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Really???

      It is clear that some people are just venting. Some people let bitterness eat into them like a rose with a canker at it's heart. The diocese is simply preserving the structure of the church which consists of more than just the hierarchy. The sad thing is most of the money will be lining the lawyers pockets.

      January 4, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  2. MrsFizzy

    If the Church had their way, none of this would ever have come out in the open in the first place. The conspiracy of silence went on for centuries right up until the past few decades.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  3. Jez

    "It's always distressing when supposed 'shepherds' act like callous CEOs," said David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.--–
    Hello?????! Religion is a business, and a damned profitable one. Its the business of getting money out of suckers. Of course "shepherds" (what a joke!) are acting like CEOs! They pretty much are!

    January 4, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Mary

      David Cohessy – brother of a priest who abused children. SNAP is just a racket and he is as phony as they come.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • asrael

      Once Mary has learned to spell Clohessy's name, she might want to post the sources for her accusations...

      January 4, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  4. CER1940

    "Abusive priest suits force archdiocese to file for bankruptcy"
    This sounds like a "the devil made me do it defense" ... The decision to file was made by the bishop and possably the vatican for the purposes of covering up the facts and also as an attempt to hold on to assets. That decision goes against the principles of justice that were taught in catholic schools in previus decades. Did they really believe in what they were teaching then?

    January 4, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  5. Screen Name

    As an atheist, I resent the fact that local churches benefit from public services (fire trucks, for instance) but do not pay taxes.
    All those donations from the faithful get tax breaks, so I am subsidizing those stained-glass windows. I am not impressed with Catholic charities. For every dollar that goes for a free meal for the homeless, there's even more dollars for priestly health insurance, landscaping, building up keep and legal bills.

    There is a rule evenly applied to all organizations: cover up one of your members abusing kids on organization property, while in the employ of the organization, and the organization is liable. Doesn't matter if it is a Walmart, the Boy Scouts, a church or a any other organization. BTW- I trust Wal-Mart to prevent child abuse more than I trust the catholic church. I can't imagine a Wal-Mart security guard sitting there watching a kid get molested.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  6. Thomas

    What's crazy is the church is exempt from paying taxes, but yet they are still allowed to file for bankruptcy protection.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  7. Dave

    This is why Islam is a terrible religion and should be banned in America.

    I mean...um....

    January 4, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  8. Lucifer

    Ahh what a lovely day. Thank you, everyone.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • YBP

      Begone, Satan! You DO NOT EXIST either.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  9. marcia

    The Catholic Church is no more an instrument of God than Walmart is.
    It is just one more example of criminal power.
    (bet this comment gets some attention!)

    January 4, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Really???

      It did get the attention you are desperate for.Troll alert!

      January 4, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  10. bailoutsos

    They need a taxpayer bailout.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  11. Andy 666

    The church hiding child molesters ? Say it ain't so...

    January 4, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  12. cathy

    all religious raquets should be put out of business. organized religion is an abomination to humanity.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • MrHanson

      Including the Church of Darwin

      January 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Brandon

      I'm unaware of a "Church of Darwin".

      Sounds like something dreamed up by creationist nutjobs that are just standard science deniers, yeah?

      January 4, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Really???

      Please learn to spell, it helps with credibility.

      January 4, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  13. disgusted

    The catholic church is a hypocrasy. Run by power hungry men who had their own way and still want it so. They should be shut down and run out of town. The saddest part is that they have brain washed so many that this will never happen. Imagine how many catholics said to confession to a man who was abusing children. I bet he really enjoyed hearing about other peoples lust, etc . Then he went home and practiced it on kids. The church should be forced to sell whatever assets they have rather than be allowed bankruptcy.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Eman

      so should you, miserable creature

      January 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Disgusted,

      You probably are not aware that a sinful priest can still administer Sacraments to us and they are valid Sacraments. His sins do not abolish what his ordination has accomplished. A priest confesses his sins just like we do.

      When I receive the Holy Eucharist from the hands of a priest I thank God that the priest accepted the calling to be a priest so that I could receive this Sacrament Most Holy, which is the true body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.

      January 4, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Frogist

      @CM: "His sins do not abolish what his ordination has accomplished...When I receive the Holy Eucharist from the hands of a priest I thank God that the priest accepted the calling to be a priest..." And having learned that this same priest is an abuser of children? What then? Do you still thank god he accepted his calling? Are you still grateful for his ordination? Do you still accept the sacraments from him? Nothing whatsoever has been changed? This is a position I could not take. If you have harmed a child, and you are not sorry, have not made reparations to the victim, have not come to justice, I think your special place before god becomes worthless. I am not thankful because anything I receive from you is tainted. And tainted a second time by me for ignoring the priest's actions.

      January 5, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Frogist,

      The Holy Eucharist is not Holy or less Holy because of the condition of the priest’s soul. Jesus Christ knew man could fall but He preserved His Sacraments from being affected by a sinful priest.

      If I learned our priest WAS IN this grave sin I would be at the front of the line in getting justice for the child. What I am saying is that I am never in fear that the Sacraments are invalid because of the priest’s sins should he have any on his soul. If this priest was the only priest available for me to receive the Sacraments, I would still want to receive them. If Jesus Christ inst!tuted His Sacraments in such a way to be always valid by the hands of His ordained priests regardless of the priest’s sins [and He did] then it is not my place to reject the Grace I so need for my life.

      Further, it is not my place to judge a person’s soul no matter what….but would seek justice in all crimes especially against children by any person if I learned of any. BTW, I have done this, but the investigation provided no proof so it was the child’s word against an adult’s word. I have to trust the authorities in their investigations; we all do; what else can we do?

      I once taught at a school where the principal ruled the children with an iron hand. One time some child smeared feces on the boy's bathroom wall and nobody in any of the classrooms owned up to it. The principal went to each room, gave out her whip-lashing with her tongue and then told us she had spotted the culprit by 'the guilty look on his face'. Yes, and she pulled him out and reprimanded him for it! So there you have it….there are people who think they can judge without knowledge other than their own inklings. Not a good way for us to live our lives.

      I think the way the postings are going on this page, it appears that if the room were full of priests and most of the posters were to pass judgment…all those priests wearing black and a white collar would be condemned of the crime of pedophilia even if none were guilty.

      January 5, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Frogist

      @CM: Yes, there are those who are biased against the Catholic church about this issue. But can you really blame them? If the church is not forthcoming and open to authorities, then they can only be judged by public opinion. If the church chooses to not participate openly in investigation, what do we have but "our own inklings"?

      January 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  14. Julie Labrouste

    The whole catholic church is responsible. That the "archdiocese" is declaring bankruptcy is irrelevant. Take the money to pay for the lawsuit from the catholic church all the way to the pope and the vatican.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • YBP

      Amen, Julie. And then when all the debts are settled, outlaw religion.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  15. Chas in Iowa

    I'm surprised that the Milwaukee archdiocese is eligable for bankruptsy as it is a division of the Roman Catholic Church.
    This has been a worldwide issue for the Catholic church for decades. They choose to hide it for decades,....now it's time to pay up to those most deeply affected.
    I have no pity for the Roman Catholic church. The pope himself will not act upon or acknowledge the evils done by his priest's.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  16. dave

    catholic is not the same as evangelical christians. we preach one way to God through Jesus (john 14:6), they preach Mary can save as well. they teach that Jesus is sacrificed again afresh at communion, we teach that Jesus died once, and only one time (in the book of Hebrews in the new testament) . they teach that you go to purgatory and can pay for your sins by cash, good deeds, etc. we preach that no money can save you. no good deed can pay for your sins- the whole Bible preaches this and this is the main point: Jesus came here and died to pay for our sins. if you reject that and think you must pay for your sins then the devil decieved you. catholic history is based on babylon religion, the babylon priests wore black robes and worshipped a pagan godess and her son. when the preisthood was almost wiped out they moved to italy and in the family line came one of the Ceasars. since christianity could not be wiped out by trying to kill them they "morphed" the babylon religion with christianity to fool the people. it worked. Catholics have killed christians during the reformation for leaving their religion. knowing history will allow you to avoid the traps of the devil.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Brandon

      Blaming human acts on mythology like "the devil" all but ensures that they'll continue indefinitely.

      January 4, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • asrael

      My lunacy is preferable to your lunacy...

      January 4, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Thomas

      Jesus didn't die for my sins. He died because the Jews wanted him dead.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      dave,

      Catholics have but one Mediator, Jesus Christ. Mary and all the saints in Heaven can intercede through Jesus Christ on our behalf. I have members of my family who pray for me, and members of my Church, and members of Christ’s Body who pray/intercede for me. I would be grateful for any prayers on my behalf.

      Catholics know that the Sacrifice of the Mass is not a new sacrifice but is a re-presentation of Jesus Christ’s Sacrifice.

      The Catholic knows that no unclean thing can enter Heaven and that our souls can be purged as through fire. 1 Cor 3:15.

      We are not paying for our sins but atoning for them. Mt. 5:26. But there are deadly sins [mortal] which cannot be forgiven in this age or the next. Mt. 12:32. [so you see there are sins that can be forgiven in the next age.]

      If you think that all you have to do is believe and you are saved, you are not thinking…even satan believes. What is it that keeps satan out of Heaven? His pride…he refuses to do the Father’s will. So to be saved we must have faith [believe], be Baptized [so that our works will have merit in Heaven]…without Baptism your works are useless…with Baptism your works are worthy because it is not you working but Christ working through you. So once you have faith, receive Baptism, then you are ready to do the Father’s will.

      If you want to learn what Catholics believe…study the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You will find those beliefs you have about the Catholicism are gravely distorted and it is shameful that you state such things as fact. Somehow you were fooled along your journey.

      January 4, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  17. Tim

    The amount of Catholic-hating in the US and the world in general is sad. I guess all you liberals can't wait for the church to "go out of business" so the gub-ment can start picking up the check for all the charity work they do (soup-kitchens, etc.)

    January 4, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Brandon

      What an amazing persecution complex you have!

      January 4, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      Yeah you're right Tim... a few thousand children are a small price to pay!

      January 4, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • YBP

      That's not my fault. In 2000 years has the Church ever even tried to live up to what it claims to be? The church is an utter digrace. Always has been. It's got more blood on its hands than any other bodily fluid. It brought it upon itself.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Really???

      The funny thing is they seem to ignore the fact that every organization has pedophiles in it, not just the religious ones. This is a problem of people who take advantage of positions of trust. It would continue to happen even if there were no religions at all.

      January 4, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  18. Mike Mazzla

    How about we start treating organized religions as businesses and start taxing them at some rate?

    January 4, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • YBP

      How about we outlaw religion?

      January 4, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  19. bethg

    The diocese will survive. They will just have another pledge drive and the parishoners will end up paying twice for the abuse.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  20. victoria

    If you want accountability from chirches–all churches–then start by demanding they pay taxes–tehy can get a tax break for "good works"

    January 4, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • YBP

      I'd rather start by demanding that all churches, mosques and synagogues be banned. Religion is a total sham. It should be outlawed.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.