MILWAUKEE (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed nine sexual abuse claims challenged by church leaders in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee bankruptcy case, eliminating the largest group of claims to date among more than 500 filed in the four-year long litigation.
In seven of the claims, U.S. District Judge Susan Kelley ruled Wednesday the claimants failed to show evidence of fraud. In the two others that were tossed, Kelley said the cases had previously been dismissed by state courts.
As for the remaining case, the judge ruled there’s evidence the archdiocese may have known as early as the 1950s that the Rev. Lawrence Murphy was molesting boys at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee and failed to remove him, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Kelley said that such disputes over facts must be litigated rather than dismissed on summary judgment as the archdiocese had asked.
Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, said Kelley’s ruling affirms what the archdiocese has said for years about most of the sex abuse allegations against its priests — “that the vast majority of abuse was not known to the archdiocese until years after it occurred.”
The 10 claimants are among more than 500 individuals who filed sex abuse claims in the bankruptcy case seeking compensation. The claims considered Wednesday involved some of the archdiocese’s most notorious sex offenders, including Murphy, who died in 1998. The 10 cases have been viewed as test cases that could be used to dismiss large numbers of similar claims.
Kelley’s ruling is the latest in a contentious bankruptcy filed by the archdiocese in January 2011 to address its sexual abuse liabilities dating back decades. The archdiocese is being sued for fraud in federal bankruptcy court by hundreds of victims who say it transferred problem priests to new churches without warning parishioners and covered up priests’ crimes for decades.