Federal appeals court: Clergy abuse victim can't make bankruptcy claim

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A federal appeals court says a clergy sexual abuse victim who previously settled with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee cannot set aside that deal to pursue a claim in bankruptcy court.

The victim identified in court documents as John Doe settled with the archdiocese for $80,000 in 2007 after participating in mediation.

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2011, saying it wouldn't be able to pay if lawsuits filed by other victims went against it. Doe and hundreds of other victims then filed claims in federal bankruptcy court.

Attorneys for Doe said he was lied to during mediation and the deal should be voided.

The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed Wednesday, saying statements made during mediation couldn't be used in the bankruptcy case and Doe's claim was rightly dismissed.

SNAP -- the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests issued this statement Wednesday, November 5th:

"The Federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that evidence the Archdiocese deliberately provided false information to procure a liability release in a case brought by one of the deaf victims of childhood sexual assault by the notorious Fr. Lawrence Murphy, cannot be heard in court because of Wisconsin’s “immunity law” on corporate mediation.

Before signing his legal release, the deaf victim in this case was told by church officials during mediation, according to his affidavit, that Murphy was not known to have a history of criminal sexual conduct against before he was assaulted as a child by him.  Church documents obtained after the settlement now show that to be false and prove the Archdiocese knowingly lied to induce a mediation settlement.  But under Wisconsin law, mediated settlements, even those procured under false or fraudulent premises, cannot be reopened or reexamined by any court.

The ruling could have implications for several dozen of the 575 victims who filed into the Milwaukee Archdiocese bankruptcy, now headed for its fourth year.

Unfortunately, this means that the voluminous evidence that Dolan and church officials had designed the mediation program prior to the bankruptcy to deliberately defraud victims and cover up knowledge of child sex crimes will likely never be brought before a judge or jury.

A second ruling by the 7th Circuit concerning Dolan’s establishment of a “cemetery trust” to hide $57 million dollars from sexual abuse victims is expected to be ruled on in the future.

The bigger picture, however, that is being constantly obscured by the endless maneuvering, motions, and the literally millions of pages of legal minutia, is the enormous toll the unprecedented bankruptcy itself is taking on the hundreds of victims who have been seeking justice.  Each month it drags miserably forward, any actual hope for justice dims.

How right Charles Dickens was when he said that the purpose of the law is to make business for itself. It was reported in court last week that lawyers’ fees are now surpassing $18 million dollars, while the entire proposed restitution being offered to 575 victims of childhood sexual assault by the archdiocese is $4 million dollars.   Who can argue with him?

The victim in this case, including all the victims of Fr. Murphy and the dozens of his clerical sex offender colleagues from the Milwaukee Archdiocese can, at least, take solace in what Plato taught us that it “it is infinitely better to be the victim of injustice than the cause of it.”  The survivors of childhood rape and sexual assault have tried to keep faith, as best we can, with the saving truth Plato speaks of and for which his master, Socrates, who one can argue prefigured the story of Christ, was executed.

Every case brought by a victim before the law, even if the law is blind to see it or deaf to hear it, is precious because it is a witness to an indomitable belief by survivors that, regardless of its perversion, the law was meant to serve justice, and that justice was meant to serve the weak, the vulnerable and the vanquished. That is why justice, especially for childhood victims of the powerful and the perverse, is in the interest of everyone not just the few who can pay for it.  Lawyers were meant to serve justice.  Justice was not meant to serve lawyers.  And it should not be bought or sold, even for $18 million dollars."