MILWAUKEE -- The deadline has passed for those wishing to be part of a class action lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and roughly 500 alleged victims of sexual abuse have come forward. Lawyers believe the number of abused may be hundreds more, but they can no longer take action against the church.
On July 14, 2011, a bankruptcy court entered an order that requires sexual abuse survivors to file a claim no later than February 1, 2012. This deadline is called a “bar date” because it means that people who come forward after that date may be “barred” from ever filing a claim against the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
By getting a bar date, the Archdiocese is able to limit who can sue after the bar date. In most circumstances, abuse survivors will not be able to sue the Archdiocese if they fail to file a claim with the bankruptcy court before February 1st.
In the final hours before the deadline, claims against the Archdiocese were still coming in. Attorney Patrick Cavanaugh Brennan added a few more to his roughly 40 clients who say they have been raped or abused by priests, teachers or other members of the church. "I think people put this off as long as they could, and then when they realized this is literally the last day, we got some calls today," Brennan said.
Julie Wolf is a spokesperson for the Archdiocese, and says the number of claims is alarming. "By the end of the day, we are expecting that number to near or top 500. It's a horrible number, when you think about it. I mean, any abuse is horrible. Even one claim is too many. We are hopeful that we will get through this, and we will be able to continue the essential ministries of the church going forward," Wolf said.
Peter Isely is the Midwest Director of the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. His worry is that the church will now attempt to get the majority of the estimated 500 claims tossed out by a judge. "They are going to try and throw virtually 90-some percent of these legitimate claims that it didn't happen, out of court on February 9th," Isely said.
The church says they have challenged some of the claims already. SNAP says the challenges are hypocritical since the church asked people to come forward with claims, and are now pushing them away.
The claims will go before a judge on February 9th.