Over the past two decades or so, the Catholic Church in the United States has been involved in a constant string of legal and financial battles. While these battles affect different dioceses at different times, they all share the same root cause: clergy sex abuse.
Because of a near-complete failure – or refusal – to adequately address and prevent the sexual abuse of children by priests, archdioceses in major cities throughout the United States are being sued by victims en masse. And they are going bankrupt in the process. News stories of settlements around the country will sound familiar to anyone who has followed the clergy sex abuse scandals here in Pennsylvania.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, a major settlement agreement appears to be nearing completion in lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, some 330 sexual abuse victims would share just $21 million. While this may initially seem like a lot of money, it is important to remember just how many victims must share that amount. Other cases involving far fewer victims have settled for much more money.
The attorney representing most of the victims in this case noted that “this archdiocese has fought more aggressively than any other in the country.” If that’s true, it undermines any words of conciliation church officials have uttered. It also suggests that once again, the church seems far more concerned about its legal liability than its moral liability.
The pattern in these cases is sadly familiar. An archdiocese ignores clergy sexual abuse until litigation reaches critical mass. Then, the archdiocese files for bankruptcy, turning each sex abuse victim into just another creditor seeking payment. Until or unless substantive changes are made by top church officials and enforced consistently, we can expect no more justice for victims than an inadequate settlement offer made without the slightest hint of remorse or apology.
Source: The New York Times, “330 to Share $21 Million in Abuse Settlement With Milwaukee Archdiocese,” Mitch Smith, Aug. 4, 2015