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. AnonAnon

    ForPlease keep in mind this: Individuals committed these sins and crimes, again individuals did the wrong; the Bishops who covered up did the wrong. The Church, that is the collective Body of Christ, did not commit these sins. The local Church, parishes and individual faithful should not be punished for the sins of the bad seeds. Just as in decades ago a pregnant teen was shuttled away hidden from sight because of society's lack of compassion and understanding as to how to deal with an un-wed mother at the time, society and the Church will learn from past mistakes in this too.
    Meanwhile, the Church needs to move forward and not be held captive by the ill-spirited likes of Peter Isley and his followers.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Frogist

      @AnonAnon: Yes, individuals committed these crimes, but with the heirarchy of an entire religion being complicit? Possibly. These claims need to be investigated to see how high up within the organization that cover ups and silencing of victims occurred. I doubt we will ever find out but only because the Catholic Church will do whatever it can to prevent the truth from coming out. They say it's for the greater good. But we can only take their word on that. And so far, considering what's come out, their word doesn't mean much.

      January 5, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  2. Reality Check

    All the benefits and protection under the law while at the same time not paying taxes for it and avoiding prison time. This religion business is just surreal.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  3. JeLa

    God knows they've been tax exempt forever..why should they have the privilege of filing BK? Seems completely insane. And good.....serves them right to be broke after raping and robbing their parishioners for so long!

    January 4, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  4. jg

    Now if the rest of the world's churches would also file bankruptcy....
    They have been morally bankrupt for a very long time.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  5. Jim

    Catholicism is the worlds largest secret organization. And you trusted your children to them? Shame on you. All of the Catholic Church's actions further two goals: Make money and acquire assets, and make more Catholics. Every action they have ever taken can be traced back to those goals.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  6. IceT

    Why would anyone be surprised by this move, the church is a business and religion is an industry, nothing more and nothing less.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  7. Just Jim

    I'd like to see bankruptcy declared up through the entire organization. Let's get the Vatican too.

    This would pave the way for Google to snap them up at record low prices.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  8. Religious Sects

    "It's always distressing when supposed 'shepherds' act like callous CEOs," -That statement is an insult to CEO's everywhere.

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

    The diocese in Wilmington, Delaware filed for bankruptcy – in order to strategically stay all of the 150+ pending lawsuits and claims against priests.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  10. fanta

    Bankrupt them ?.........they should be jailed and the key lost ! Since when were black frocked white collared offenders immune from due process......priests and clergy should NOT be treated ANY differently to any other criminals.....because that's what they are !

    January 4, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  11. Charles Gannon

    Think about this the next time they pass the collection plate around

    January 4, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  12. ijreilly

    What's surprising is how not suprising this is.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  13. Eyo

    I think nautyangel might be the dumbest person ever.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  14. Really???

    So, what percent of the money will actually go to the lawyers?And the percentage they will donate to charity??? Just looking behind the scenes to the reality of a legal cash cow.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  15. Steve T

    Christianity at its finest. Time to stop the medieval voodoo that is religion and try to fix all the problems they created. Easy to understand why the Romans threw them to the lions.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  16. km

    Jesus himself suggested a millstone around the neck. Could it be any clearer?

    January 4, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  17. An old fool

    Maybe we could get these churches with their made up religions to pay property taxes istead of letting them keep all the money they extort from their "flock" to support their pedofile life styles!

    January 4, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  18. Mystic River

    Funny. The Church is now seeking refuge in the Temple of Mammon they so long denounced. Maybe sell some of the land holdings, superfluous churches, combine a few parishes, and there will be money to pay for the suffering of too many innocent parishioners whose lives have been hurt by priests. Bankruptcy should not protect the Church, when there are millions and millions in assets in plain view.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  19. claybigsby

    Religion is BIG BUSINESS....nothing more, nothing less.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  20. Common Sense

    I like how everyone just loves coming down on the catholic church,.. because its a good and big target. If anyone on this blog has ever paid attention to this story,...The Priests ignored the boys accusations, not because they had intentions of hidding any sins,.. Its because it was almost impossible to beleive,....The same way it would be impossible to beleive when if someone told you your brother is a suicide bomber,...They thought the boys were lieing

    Most importantly,.. in this story there was a time these deaf boys made thier way to a police pricinct to report the matter,.. and the Police dept respnse was that "This is not our Jursidiction"......Yes this is even a much worse response than the response of the priest. The priests were naive and could not,.. it would be hard for me to beleive at first,.. BUt the Police Officers,.. are supposed to take every situation serious,... But HAS THE MEDIA EVER TALKED ABOUT THE NEGLIGENCE FROM THE POLICE OFICERS???? NO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IS THE PERFECT TARGET

    I'm not defending the sin of any priest,.. I'm just preaching that people excercise some common sense when you make attempts to paint an entire church based on the actions on a few sinners,.. Oh Yea like Other churches don't have similar cases going on,...GIVE ME A DAMN BREAK!!!

    January 4, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Brandon

      Blame the victim, support the victimizers... all in the name of religion. Classy.

      January 4, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • claybigsby

      based on a few sinners? this crap has been happening for 1500 years and will continue to happen in the future. It maybe a few sinners who commit these crimes, but the church as a whole is responsible for putting those people into those positions, covering it up for years, and didnt believe the kids because, "it was impossible to believe". that is the weakest answer i have ever heard.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Chen

      The Catholic Church made itself the TARGET, by abusing their children! And for you saying I am sure "other religions" have the same problems...hmmmmm Other religions offer a choice to their clergy to get married- Open your mind my friend!

      January 4, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Marilyn

      Common Sense........you have none. That's some fantasy world you're living in if you really believe even a tenth of what you wrote. The boys stories were impossible to believe??????? Puhleeeeeese! I guarantee you the "superiors" knew what was going on and may well have been eager participants themselves. This behavior has been rampant in that so-called church for decades, and probably centuries. It is a cesspool and should be cemented over, like any other over-full latrine.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • CER1940

      "GIVE ME A DAMN BREAK!!!" ... I don't think anyone needs to give you or the RCC a break... you and the heirarchy have already absolved the RCC and it's leadership.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • asrael

      "Common"? To be sure. "Sense"? Imagine uncontrollable laughter...

      January 4, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Really???

      There is plenty of blame to go around. The oh no it can't happen in my particular religion, or because I lack religion people all miraculously have 20/20 hindsight. The normal people of the 70's and 80's ( including parents & police) were quite naive, and lots of them were fooled. The leadership of the church was listening to doctors who were advocating using remedial & relocation therapy for pedophiles. Previously the church assigned them involuntarily to places where they were given perpetual pennances (sometimes as anchorites) when they caught them. These enlightened doctors claimed that the isolation was too cruel! Doctors also gave the same advice to prison parole boards creating our revolving door policies.
      The problem is, these abusers like to occupy all kinds positions of trust. It would be more positive for us to focus on prevention in our homes, schools, communities, as well as our places of worship. The venom and vengeance I see in these posts reminds me that hatred is like acid, it harms the vessel that contains it as much as the object it is poured out upon. Failing to see the harm to the people who depend upon the volunteers organized by the church charities in a quest to destroy the church for revenge is sad. Anyone who thinks secular relief organizations can do better should look at the salaries listed for most charities.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • CatholicMom


      With your kind of thinking…all men should get married, otherwise they are most likely going to be pedophiles….how would that explain uncles, grandpas, dads, brothers, and nephews who molest children of their own families, married or not?

      January 4, 2011 at 7:37 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.