Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
Aug. 12, 2011 |(55) Comments
Retired Milwaukee bishops Rembert Weakland and Richard Sklba will answer questions under oath in October about the extent and alleged coverup of child sex abuse in the archdiocese, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley ruled on Friday.
However, that testimony won’t be available to the public, at least initially.
Kelley granted a request by survivor-creditors to question the two, along with defrocked priest Daniel A. Budzynski, who is believed to have molested several children, as part of the church’s bankruptcy proceedings.
The judge scheduled the questionings for the weeks of Oct. 17 and 24. But she imposed strict limits on their duration and ordered them sealed from public view.
“I don’t want this on anybody’s website,” said Kelley, a reference to victims’ attorney Jeff Anderson’s distribution of Weakland’s 2008 questioning, in which the retired archbishop referred to Sklba as his “go-to guy” in the handling of sex abuse cases.
“This isn’t about embarrassing these people. This is about giving the parties relief,” Kelley said.
Anderson’s associate Mike Finnegan objected to the seal and signaled that they would seek to lift that.
“A lot of what is happening here is to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he told Kelley. “This kept secret doesn’t serve the common good.”
The judge rejected the argument that public dissemination acted as a deterrent.
Also Friday, Kelley imposed September deadlines for the archdiocese to provide certain documents to the creditors, including summaries of all known accounts of child sex abuse and the abusers’ placement histories.
The hearing shed new light on the size of the creditors’ pool and presaged a coming legal battle over the inclusion of claims involving religious-order priests.
Anderson’s firm alone represents about 200 clients in this case, according to Finnegan, up from about 24 when the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January. And at least two other attorneys have indicated that they will be filing survivor claims.
Archdiocese attorney Frank LoCoco said the church would object to the inclusion of claims involving religious-order priests.
“This is the bankruptcy of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee – not the Jesuits . . . not the Franciscans,” LoCoco said.
Creditors attorney Jim Stang countered that a bishop must grant faculties for a religious-order priest to work in his diocese, and as such bears some liability for his actions. He cited precedence for their inclusion from the Diocese of Wilmington, where one-third of the claims in the bankruptcy, he said, involved religious-order priests.
“These people don’t just wander into a diocese and act as priests,” he said.
Peter Isely, Midwest director for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, who attended the hearing alongside victims, called the decision to expedite the depositions “a major victory for survivors and families in this community.”
Victims have long sought to depose Sklba, who they believe has extensive knowledge of the church’s sex abuse history locally and was directly involved in reassigning abusers. The church has argued to block any deposition or keep it sealed.
He had been scheduled to be deposed in the civil fraud cases underlying the bankruptcy, but the Chapter 11 filing triggered a stay on all pending litigation.
The creditors committee moved to depose the trio as soon as possible, arguing that their testimony could be lost because of their advanced ages – Sklba is 75; Weakland, 84; and Budzynski, 83.
Church attorneys argued to delay them until after the Feb. 1 deadline for claims, when the extent of the claims and allegations would be known, saying there was no evidence to suggest the bishops were in ill health.
But Kelley sided with the creditors, citing Wednesday’s unexpected death of federal appeals Judge Terence Evans.
“My friend and colleague passed away . . . at 71,” said Kelley, who recalled speaking to Evans in recent weeks.
“I have him in my mind today. He was healthy . . . and he’s gone.”