Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Dolan braces Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese for priest sex abuse costs

The Journal-Sentinel Online reported recently that:

Bankruptcy a possibility as California cases move toward trial

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is going ahead with plans to sell the Cousins Center in St. Francis and has launched a major communications effort, partly to prepare its 700,000 Catholics for what might be "staggering financial consequences" as 10 lawsuits filed against it by victims of clergy sexual abuse move toward trials in California.

Katherine Freberg, an attorney representing eight of the victims, said Thursday that the archdiocese has expressed interest in seeking settlements while also indicating "there's a possibility they will file for bankruptcy."

"When we hear that from a defendant, we are very suspicious that a mediation would not be very fruitful," added Freberg, who noted that average settlements of clergy sexual abuse lawsuits in California "certainly are over $1 million."

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, who has acknowledged in the past that bankruptcy could be a last-resort option, did not rule it out in his Herald of Hope column and in his quotes in a news story devoted to sexual abuse issues in Thursday's Catholic Herald.

"The issue of going into bankruptcy would be extremely painful and would only come after extensive consultation with the advisory groups of the archdiocese, and as a last resort," Jerry Topczewski, Dolan's chief of staff, said Thursday in an interview. "The financial and operating tension that you live under is to do everything you can do to help the victim-survivors while continuing to fund the ministries and mission and of the church here in southeastern Wisconsin.

"Other dioceses have determined that the only way to do that is to declare bankruptcy. We hope we can find another way."

The Cousins Center, at 3501 S. Lake Drive, is a complex with 415,000 square feet of space on an approximately 44-acre site near Lake Michigan. It has been inefficient to operate and has not been fully used - reasons in addition to the pending lawsuits that the archdiocese considered selling it.

Tentative plans call for the archdiocesan central offices and the about 115 employees who work there to move from the Cousins Center to one or more existing buildings on the adjacent Saint Francis Seminary grounds at 3257 S. Lake Drive, by Sept. 1, 2007, Topczewski said. About 24 retired priests who live at the center, including retired Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, have not been given a deadline to move but have received a list of recommended retirement centers in the Milwaukee area.

A decision earlier this year to shift academic training from the deficit-burdened seminary to one or more other institutions in the area will free up some space for the move, though some offices may go to other locations. Included in the move are two operations at the Cousins Center that are not part of the central offices - Catholic Charities and the Milwaukee Catholic Press Apostolate, which publishes the weekly Catholic Herald.

The archdiocese's Finance Council has recommended hiring a professional broker to sell the Cousins Center, and the process of selecting one will soon begin, Topczewski added.

The complete story may be found here:


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