Sexual abuse scandal in Catholic archdiocese of Milwaukee

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The sexual abuse scandal in the Milwaukee Archdiocese is a series of sexual-abuse cases that occurred in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

Lawrence Murphy case[edit]

Lawrence Murphy was a priest who taught at the former St. John School for the Deaf in the Milwaukee suburb of St. Francis from 1950 to 1974. He is believed to have molested up to 200 deaf boys before the mid-1970s.[1] Local law enforcement agencies, including the Milwaukee Police Department, the St. Francis police, and the Milwaukee County District Attorney, were informed of the abuse in 1974 by adult graduates of the St. John School for the Deaf, but expressed doubts about the credibility of the allegations and the statute of limitations, and did nothing.[2]

Then Milwaukee Archbishop William Edward Cousins gave Murphy a leave of absence in 1974 and allowed him to move to his mother's house in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, which is in the Diocese of Superior. Cousins did not tell the Bishop of Superior the reason Murphy was not living in Milwaukee.[citation needed]

In 1977, Rembert Weakland succeeded Cousins as Archbishop of Milwaukee. Weakland stated in a deposition,[3] that he was aware of the accusations against Murphy in 1977, and prohibited Murphy from saying Mass in Milwaukee, but otherwise did nothing, and gave no information about Murphy to the Diocese of Superior where Murphy was living. Weakland offered to transfer Murphy to the Diocese of Superior,[citation needed] but the offer was not accepted, and Murphy finally retired as a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in January 1993. In December 1993, Weakland had Murphy evaluated by a psychotherapist. During the interview, Murphy admitted molesting boys at least up until 1974, including during the sacrament of penance, which is an offense under canon law. In July 1996, Weakland notified the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and asked how to proceed. Although the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time did not have jurisdiction over most incidents involving sexual abuse by priests, it did have authority over cases involving solicitation by priests during the sacrament of penance. Weakland stated that "[I] got an answer back saying yes. We could open the case", and the process against Murphy was begun in October 1996. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone instructed Wisconsin bishops to convene a canonical trial,[4] which could have resulted in a range of punishments, including laicization. A formal church trial was initiated but later dropped because Archbishop Weakland decided that a pastoral solution was more appropriate because Murphy was elderly and in poor health.[1][5] Murphy died several months after he requested that the Vatican halt a canonical trial against him because of his ill health.[1]

The Vatican has responded to concerns by noting that they had not been informed of the allegations until 20 years after they were first raised; that Murphy died within two years of Vatican notification of the allegations; that police investigations into the allegations at the time did not result in any cases being heard; and that there was nothing in the Vatican's actions that would prevent civil cases from proceeding.[1]

As of March 2010, there were four outstanding lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in the case.[4][6]

Cover-ups of Reports of Sex Abuse[edit]

In 1984, Archbishop Weakland responded to teachers in a Catholic school who were reporting sexual abuse by local priests by stating "any libelous material found in your letter will be scrutinized carefully by our lawyers." The Wisconsin Court of Appeals rebuked him for this, calling his remarks "abrupt" and "insensitive".[7] In 1994, Weakland said those reporting sexual abuse were "squealing". He later apologized for the remarks.[7]

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a deposition released in 2009 revealed that Weakland shredded reports about sexual abuse by priests.[8] Weakland admitted allowing priests guilty of child sex abuse to continue as priests without warning parishioners or alerting the police.[9] Weakland stated in his autobiography that in the early years of the sexual abuse scandal he did not understand that child sexual abuse was a crime.[10]

2003 report on sexual abuse[edit]

Following public testimony by victims before a combined session of the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly Judiciary Committee, a report on the sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee was published in September 2003. The report revealed that allegations of sexual assault of minors had been made against 58 ordained men, who were under the direct supervision of the Archbishop of Milwaukee.[11] In response, Archbishop Timothy Dolan held a meeting with victims, mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, and clergy. He opposed legislation that would have extended or eliminated the statute of limitations on the filing of clergy sexual abuse cases.[citation needed]

By early 2009, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee had spent approximately $26.5 million in attorney fees and settlements[citation needed] for sexual-abuse claims. Nevertheless, Dolan helped the archdiocese avoid bankruptcy resulting from the lawsuits, and closed a $3 million budget deficit in 2008.[12] He later called the sexual abuse scandals the most challenging issue of his tenure in Milwaukee, saying "Does it haunt me? Yes it does. And I'm not afraid to admit that."[13]

2011 bankruptcy filing[edit]

On January 4, 2011 the Archdiocese of Milwaukee announced that it would file for bankruptcy. The church was facing more than 23 lawsuits, and attempts to reach a mediated settlement with victims failed in December 2010.[citation needed] This announcement came two days before the bishop was scheduled to be deposed, and after the church had refused to release the names or personnel records of the priests accused. The attorney for the plaintiffs in the abuse action opined that the bankruptcy filing was an attempt to delay turning over church records on the cases.[citation needed]

The Milwaukee archdiocese has paid out over $29 million to settle 200 cases over the last 20 years.[citation needed] The archdiocese said that these additional cases would incur legal fees the diocese could not afford. The archdiocese has assets of about $98.4 million, but $90 million of that is already allocated.[14] An attorney for some of the victims alleges that there were more than 8,000 cases of abuse by more than 100 staff.[15]

Removal of Cousins and Weakland from Archdiocese[edit]

On March 18, 2019, it was announced that former Archbishops William Cousins and Rembert Weakland would have their names removed from buildings in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee due to their poor handling of sex abuse cases.[16] The renaming of office center which were named in their honor commenced on March 22, 2019.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Vatican defends decision not to defrock priest accused of molesting deaf boys in Wisconsin". Associated Press. 25 March 2010.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b "Vatican Declines to Defrock US Priest Who Abused Boys", New York Times, March 25, 2010.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Man recounts abuse by priests, says pope should be held accountable," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 25, 2010.
  7. ^ a b Dave Umhoefer, "Scandal casts new light on Weakland's statements", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 26, 2002.
  8. ^ Bruce Vielmetti, "Weakland shredded copies of sex abuse reports, documents say" Archived April 18, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 3, 2009.
  9. ^ Archbishop Rembert Weakland, Former Catholic Bishop Of Milwaukee, Says He's Gay Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 7, 2019. Retrieved 2013-08-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^
  12. ^ Bohn, Lauren E. (2009-02-26). "New York City Archbishop Timothy Dolan". TIME Magazine.
  13. ^ Johnson, Annysa (2009-02-24). "Back in Milwaukee, Dolan shares joy, sentiments". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  14. ^ Ramde, Dinesh (January 4, 2011). "Milwaukee archdiocese to seek bankruptcy protection in wake of pending sexual-abuse lawsuits". Minneapolis StarTribune. Retrieved January 5, 2011.[dead link]
  15. ^ "Lawyer: More than 8,000 children abused by Milwaukee archdiocese priests - WTAQ News Talk 97.5FM and 1360AM". WTAQ. 10 February 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  16. ^
  17. ^

External links[edit]

Archdiocese of Milwaukee