Some of 550 people seeking restitution for alleged Wisconsin clergy abuse say claim not about money
By Associated Press
MILWAUKEE — Billy Kirchen says the sexual abuse began when he was about 11, when his choir director at a Milwaukee parish assaulted him in the 1970s. After five years of abuse he reported the alleged perpetrator, but says prosecutors and officials with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee did nothing.
Now he’s hoping a financial claim against the archdiocese will finally lead to the emotional closure he has craved. Kirchen is one of about 550 people who filed a claim by Wednesday’s deadline. Like many of them he said he’s not looking to cash in — what he really wants is accountability.
The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection last year, saying pending sex-abuse lawsuits could leave it with debts it couldn’t afford. As part of the filing, all sex-abuse victims were given until Wednesday to file a claim seeking monetary damages.
About 550 people did, more than in any of the other seven U.S. dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy protection. Several of the filers in the Milwaukee case told The Associated Press their claims weren’t just about money.
Kirchen, 45, now works as a liturgical musician at St. Vincent Pallotti in Milwaukee, a church that’s part of the Milwaukee archdiocese. He said many church officials, from his priest employer to Archbishop Jerome Listecki, know he was sexually abused by someone working for the archdiocese but no one has ever offered support.
“I work in the thick of them. And not one has ever come up and said, ‘We understand what you’re going through, we’re sorry,’” Kirchen said. “Sometimes it’s getting hit in the pocketbook that makes people act differently.”
The AP generally doesn’t identify victims of sexual abuse. However, Kirchen and the other two alleged victims in this report specifically granted AP permission to use their names.
The archdiocese has paid more than $30 million in settlements and other court costs related to allegations of clergy abuse and more than a dozen suits against it have been halted because of the bankruptcy proceedings. One late priest alone is accused of abusing some 200 boys at a suburban school for deaf students from 1950 to 1974.
Seven other dioceses in the nation also filed for bankruptcy under similar circumstances. Payouts in those cases have ranged from about $250,000 to $1.2 million per person.
However, James Stang, a bankruptcy lawyer who represents creditors in the Wisconsin case, speculated that any payouts here would be on the lower end. He said Milwaukee courts traditionally haven’t been as sympathetic to abuse victims, and any cash pool would be divided among an unusually large number of claimants.
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