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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. Religious Sects

    This isn't an isolated case, thousands of priests (that we know of) have been involved. The relocations and cover ups are absolutely inexcusable and indefensible. It's beyond me how people who call themselves Christians can attempt to defend these known actions of the Catholic church and it's management. A few bad apples may not ruin the whole barrel, but thousands do.

    January 4, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  2. edward

    First off the Catholic church did not require celibacy until the 1400 or 1500s, this should be ended. Second they need to weed out pedophiles from their ranks. Third they need to apologize and admit wrong doing and all abuse needs to be treated criminally and not swept under the rug.

    January 4, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • Really???

      I believe that celibacy was introduced after the Norman conquest by the brother of William the B@stard who was a bishop. It was for purely secular reasons, so the kingdom could absorb church lands. That would make it 12th century, I think. It is one of those man made rules that some pray will be abolished someday. There men who have waited until their wife died to follow the call to become a priest. A shame they have to wait so long.

      January 4, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  3. A simple sheep

    G-o-d sitll loves you all. No everything the church does is perfect but is not all bad. You obviously have strong feelings if taking time to post here but respect all have the right to their own beliefs and no crime should go unpunished this life or next. G-O-D B-LE-SS

    January 4, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  4. michael

    Would a parent be financially liable if his or her child killed someone? Certainly not. Yet the parent provides that child with financial support, thereby enabling his daily pursuits. Like the financial resources of a caring parent, the church's money should not be at risk. Go after the abusing individuals and seize their assets.
    The church's resources have been raised through the sacrifices of millions of honest people who want nothing more than to help others. I don't care whether you are religious or not, This is simply Wrong.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      No, it's perfectly legitimate – the pedophile priests are employees of (an arm of) the church. They were poorly supervised, they committed crimes and the church tried to cover up the crimes and hide the criminals. If this happened in a non-church setting, the guilty would have been dealt with, and the victims compensated, very swiftly. But as in other areas, such as believers in imaginary beings not being declared mentally ill, believers get a free pass, but thank goodness ('cause there are no gods), the days of free passes are coming to an end.

      January 4, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  5. A simple sheep

    God still loves ya! Complain and cry all you want, a cnn blog really! Your just lost and sad.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  6. dabble

    Just NOW people are realizing that organized religion is a business??????

    January 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  7. Albiem

    ConcernedPerson Said:

    The Catholic church, and christian churches in general, have been and always will be BUSINESSES first. The catholic church is the wealthiest private land owner in the world. The dioceses are set up like franchised business units. The finances are identical to corporations and subsidiaries.

    One can only conclude that since they represent god, god is the big CEO. I think then that GOD should be sued also.

    REALLY?

    There is an error in your analogy. If the Church is like a corporation, then the Pope would be the CEO. God would not have anything to do with it. You wouldn't sue Colonel Saunders or Ronald McDonald, would you? Get over yourself!

    January 4, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Your reply is wrong on a few points...

      I agree pope-a-dope could be the CEO, and there is ample evidence that he was directly involved in the cover-up of pedophile priests. CEOs can be sued, and pope-a-dope would seem to be a good candidate. I would position god as "chairman of the board" – like many COBs, he seems to be absent, but there's no reason not to try to sue him, if for no other reason than to establish legally that he does not exist.

      Re: The Colonel, he was a real person and could have been sued. Ronnie, like your god, is a clown and not an officer of McDs, so not a good target.

      January 4, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  8. Eman

    Long live Catholicism, our beautiful churches, and our unparalleled charity to the poor!

    We are the best religion in the world, and we must be proud! No other religion has its leader go around and try to make peace on earth–even among countries that have very few Catholics. No other religion helps the poor and the handicapped as a basic tenet of the religion. We are a good people, and we must withstand the evil that is being rocketed against us (starting, of course, from money-hungry Planitiffs lawyers!). Yes, the extremely small number of priests that commited child abuse must and will be punished, along with any cover ups, but that is a crime against the Church too. Good Catholics must stay strong during these times.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Religious Sects

      Excuse me, but isn't Pride one of the 7 deadly sins?!

      January 4, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Religious Sects,

      Our enemies would have us think that Christian Pride is sinful but, no, “For we are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them”. Eph. 2:10, and this is what Eman’s post means to me.

      For parents to have ‘pride and joy’ [which go hand in hand] in their baby child is a beautiful pride because they, in the covenant with Jesus Christ through marriage, have brought forth new life. This is not wicked pride….the pride that some have for themselves in worldly desires which cause them to choose abortion instead of life.

      Possessing sound judgment brings forth good pride in doing the right thing and not giving in to our sinful pride which brings us shame; we must discern our true good in every circu-mstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.

      Having a glorious, spirited pride in following Jesus Christ is not the wicked pride of arrogance, haughtiness, being rude, conceited, pomp, presumptuous, or boastful. We take pride in what we have in the Catholic Church, the Magesterium, and the Bible. When we do good we know it is not of ourselves but Christ working through us.

      January 4, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Religious Sects : Arrogance is unfortunately a characteristic of many zealots. It's a form of denial in the case of apologetics like Eman.

      January 5, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  9. Other Churches Too

    Remember, this isn't a "Catholic Church problem." This happens is other churches too. My daughter was molested by a minister of the Assemblies of God church back in '87/'88. That was right around the time that other A of G guys were getting caught with their pants down. In our situation, the A of G church knew of this guys past and moved him around. He was serving in an isolated community by himself. Perfect set up. His daughters knew of his history of incest. His wife, I don't know what she knew. But they still did not say anything while my daughter was under their care.
    Yes, we filed a lawsuit against the A of G. Did it bring justice? not reallly, because HE didn't have to pay it. Insurance money did. Real justice was him going to prison for 20 years.
    Bottom line......it isn't only the Catholic church with these problems.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • Really???

      This problem is present everywhere in all kinds of organizations. It is also in every socioeconomic group and every nationality. That is why it is so annoying to read the catholic bashing posts. I know a secular organization that is being sued right now over multiple molestations. One of the big problems is lots of times when it occurs a molester has made an effort to make themselves well liked or useful. That creates a sense of disbelief that it is them, especially if they have a special place of respect or responsibility.

      January 4, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Other Churches Too: No, it isn't just the Catholic church, but that doesn't exempt them from paying for their sins. If these abuses and coverups go all the way up, then the organization on the whole must pay. Simple as that.

      January 5, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  10. Gecko

    Oh no lets not shut down the Catholic Church, their charity arm provides so much help for others. Whoever thinks that doesn't understand the costs associated with changing people's lives forever, in a negative way. Those people who were abused have resulted in a negative exponential cost to society, as a result of emotional problems and poor functioning. The abuse cancels out "all the good" they do.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  11. LouAz

    Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of fellows, well deserved !

    January 4, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  12. Bill

    Id like to see a follow-up article that explains what happens when a church goes bankrupt.. Since the church is Catholic
    does another priest get assigned? Do they close down the church? Sell it?

    January 4, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  13. LiberateUs

    God bless America? Not. This country is full of anti-Catholic morons.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • LiberateUs

      Btw, I feel sorry for those who believe that our Church is full of pedophiles. Give us proof, or shut up.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  14. Religious Sects

    I put to you that the vast majority of "believers" do not actually believe, they just like the idea.
    If you truly believe God exists, is always there and always watching and all knowing you would never sin.
    Just like if a Priest's Mother was standing at the foot of his bed he wouldn't diddle that altar boy now would he?
    No believer would sin "knowing/believing" that God is actually watching just like their Mother.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  15. Wholly Mary

    Gee, it's kinda like the Madoff's declaring bankruptcy!

    January 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  16. Reality

    Why did today's pope, prelates, preachers and rabbis, so focused on society's se-xual sins, lose sight of clerical se-xual sins?
    "
    FEAR, SHAME and GUILT and COVER IT ALL UP!!!

    Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!

    Neither is coronation!!! e.g. Henry VIII, King David.

    Neither is marriage as 50% of those men convicted of ped-ophilia are married.

    Neither is being elected president of the USA!! e.g. Billy "I did not have s-ex with that girl" Clinton, John "Marilyn Monroe" Kennedy"

    Neither is possessing super athletic skill!!! e.g. Tiger "I am so sorry for getting caught" Woods.

    Neither is being an atheist or pagan since ped-ophilia is present in all walks of life.

    If someone is guilty of a crime in this litany of "neithers" they should or should have been penalized as the law dictates to include jail terms for ped-ophiliacs (priests, rabbis, evangelicals, boy scout leaders, married men/women), divorce for adultery (Clinton, Kennedy, Woods), jail terms for obstruction of justice (Clinton, Cardinal Law) and the death penalty or life in prison for murder ("Kings David and Henry VIII).

    January 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • dabble

      Where did the 50% of married men figure come from? Thin air? I don't have a number, but would actually expect it to be higher just on an observation of reports in the news media.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Reality

      http://www.minddisorders.com/Ob-Ps/Pedophilia.html

      January 5, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  17. A simple sheep

    Jesus loves you all. Just saying!

    January 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  18. ----ck the pope

    watch this–
    -----http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7BYKAT9Fxs&feature=related-----

    January 4, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  19. ----ck the pope

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7BYKAT9Fxs&w=640&h=360]

    January 4, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  20. 5xad0w

    I guess this makes a good case for not raping kids, huh?

    January 4, 2011 at 5:59 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.