Judge OKs Milwaukee archdiocese bankruptcy reorganization giving $21 million to abuse victims

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MILWAUKEE — A reorganization plan for Milwaukee's Roman Catholic archdiocese that will distribute $21 million to hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims won approval Monday from a federal bankruptcy judge, bringing a measure of closure to a long-running and emotional case.

The plan confirmed by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan Kelley splits most of the money among 355 people. Another category of 104 victims will get about $2,000 each. There also are provisions for victims to receive counseling.

Shortly before the deal was approved, Archbishop Jerome Listecki addressed the court and repeated his apology to victims as well as his hope that "we have turned the corner in the history of the archdiocese." At several points as he spoke, however, a packed gallery of victims and advocates coughed, groaned and even quietly booed.

A dozen Catholic dioceses nationwide have filed for bankruptcy in the past decade over abuse claims in a widespread scandal that rocked the church. Milwaukee's settlement, announced in early August, includes some of the smallest per-victim payments — a heavily criticized aspect of the deal.

Several victims have said they wished settlement amounts had been larger and that they wanted to see a deeper investigation of abuse claims to make sure no one remains at risk.

In court Monday, Charles Linneman, chairman of the creditors' committee, said he didn't like the classification plan for abuse victims, and that "in a lot of ways, I think I failed you."

Still, he didn't object to the deal negotiated among the archdiocese, the creditors' committee and attorneys for abuse survivors. After the hearing he declined to elaborate on what he wished had gone differently.

Church lawyers have said all claims have been properly investigated and reforms have been put in place to prevent future abuses.

The agreement follows a yearslong process that revealed the scope of the Milwaukee archdiocese's involvement in the clergy sex abuse scandal. The church made sweeping reforms meant to stop molesters and help victims, including a pledge to investigate claims and oust abusers. Bishops also enacted safeguards for children, requiring background checks and special training.

Kelley allowed victims to speak at the hearing in order to have any remaining complaints noted for the record, and several stood to lash out, though none legally objected. She encouraged victims with further concerns to reach out to the archbishop, saying they had the right to do so under the deal.

The judge and lawyers for both sides were scheduled to return to court later Monday to formalize language in the deal, which ends a case that began when the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2011 to address its sex abuse lawsuit liabilities.

Kelley choked up when she confirmed the plan. "I did the best I could," she said, composing herself. Hopefully, she said, "a page can be turned, some resolution can be had."

Follow Greg Moore at https://twitter.com/writingmoore . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/greg-moore

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