MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Archdiocese of Milwaukee said Wednesday it will publicly release thousands of pages of documents tied to sexual abuse lawsuits, including depositions with some of its former top officials.
The archdiocese had been fighting the release of the documents, and it made its announcement the day before a hearing on the matter was to be held in U.S. bankruptcy court in Milwaukee. The archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2011 to deal with about 500 sex abuse claims filed by men and women. Lawyers representing those people had been seeking the documents' release.
The documents to be released include depositions given by New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who previously led the Milwaukee archdiocese, former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland and retired Bishop Richard Sklba. Victims' advocates have accused archdiocese leaders of transferring abusive priests to other parishes and concealing their crimes for decades.
Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Archbishop Jerome Listecki, said the archdiocese plans to post the documents on its website by July 1. Along with the depositions, the cache will include documents from priests' personnel files and the files of bishops and other church leaders.
Topczewski said one reason for the delay was to ensure that the identities of sexual abuse victims were fully redacted before the documents were made public.
Plaintiffs' attorney Jeff Anderson said the archdiocese's decision marked a "giant step" toward helping the survivors heal. He said the next steps would involve seeking financial resolution for the survivors from the archdiocese's insurance companies.
The archdiocese said in a statement that some of the documents to be released go back as far as 80 years. It said they show that church leaders often didn't know about abuse until years after it happened, in many cases because victims didn't report the crimes to church or public authorities until decades later.
The documents also detail how priests who were accused of abuse in the 1970s and '80s were often removed from their parishes for medical reasons, sent for counseling and then reassigned to other parishes with the recommendation of their therapists or other medical professionals. The diocese said the documents will show that most priests who were reassigned did not abuse again, although some did.
Other documents show that police, church and other authorities did not always investigate claims of abuse, and even when priests were convicted of crimes they did not always receive jail sentences, the archdiocese said.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.