Milwaukee Archdiocese to Pay $16.65 Million in Sex Abuse Cases

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee said Friday it has agreed to pay more than $16 million to settle sexual abuse claims involving 10 victims in California and two priests, one transferred there by the archdiocese.

Half the settlement will come from insurance, the archdiocese said. The deal was reached after two days of court-ordered mediation in Los Angeles Superior Court this week.

“Our hope, always, is to continue our progress in reaching resolution with anyone who was a victim of clergy sexual abuse,” Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan said in a statement. “We believe this agreement brings closure to all cases in California and, hopefully, provides healing for victims/survivors.”

The Milwaukee Archdiocese had transferred Siegfried Widera to California in 1981, knowing the priest had a history of abuse. Nine claims were against Widera while one was against Franklyn Becker, who has since left the priesthood, the archdiocese said.

Differences between California and Wisconsin law allowed the victims in California to sue years after the alleged abuse, while the Wisconsin victims could not.

A Wisconsin appeals court ruled unanimously last week that that state’s six-year statute of limitation had expired, even though the accusers had documents showing the archdiocese quietly transferred Widera from one parish to another after a 1973 conviction on sexual perversion with a teenager.

The Wisconsin accusers argued that the archdiocese defrauded them by concealing priest’s history and that the clock on when they could sue should not have started until recently, when they discovered more details. The appeals court disagreed, ruling that clock started with the last sexual assault against each victim.

A statement from the offices of Freberg and Associates, which represented eight victims, praised the $16.65 million settlement and said the victims appreciated meeting with Dolan after the settlement had been reached.

“These necessary discussions leave no one who listens untouched by the depth of the victims’ pain,” the Irvine-based law firm said. “No plan of prevention will be successful unless there is full recognition and acknowledgment of the harm that comes to every child that suffers at the hands of a sexual predator. This first step of reconciliation is perhaps the true value of any settlement.”

Widera was facing 42 counts of child molestation in California and Wisconsin when he died in 2003 after leaping from a hotel balcony in Mexico while being questioned by police.

Peter Isely, a Milwaukee leader in the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Friday that the settlement was a mixed blessing because victims in Wisconsin cannot file civil cases.

“You have a small handful of victims in California of Milwaukee priests being able to receive some kind of justice where a vast majority of victims of these priests cannot,” he said.

The archdiocese said it will pay out the settlement with current financial holdings, including the sale of some properties and the liquidation of some short-and long-term investments. Spokeswoman Kathleen Hohl said the archdiocese will not sell any parish property, such as schools. The settlement means the archdiocese will not have to face bankruptcy, she said.

Dolan said the archdiocese would continue to reach out to victims and work to make sure abuse does not happen in the future.

Freberg and Associates said the eight men it represented had been abused from 1969 through 1985, with ages ranging from 8 to 16 at the time of the alleged encounters.