5 More Claiming Clergy Sex Abuse File Suits against Archdiocese
Relations Cooling between Advocacy Group, Archbishop

By Tom Heinen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [Milwaukee WI]
March 6, 2003

As if hit by an early spring blizzard, the once-warming relations between Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan and an advocacy group for survivors of clergy sexual abuse froze Thursday as five more alleged victims filed lawsuits against the archdiocese.

Already upset by a dispute over the archdiocese's willingness to mediate restitution with victims, advocates also were surprised to learn Thursday that the archdiocese is reversing earlier promises to publicly release the names of all diocesan priests who ever sexually abused a minor.

"We're all sad and disappointed that Archbishop Dolan couldn't reach up and reach out to us," said advocate and victim Peter Isely, who in the recent past had publicly embraced Dolan and become a practicing Catholic again because of Dolan's influence.

"I've got to tell you, I feel a personal sense of failure in that we came in scores to the Midwest Express Center in October (with) testimony after testimony. . . . We've met with him on many occasions, and we were unable to move the heart of this man enough for him to reach out and not take advantage of the situation that he has in this state."

Isely, a national board member and the Milwaukee coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Dolan was refusing to mediate fairly because Wisconsin court decisions have prevented victims from suing the church for failing to curb abusive priests.

However, archdiocesan spokesman Jerry Topczewski said five victims already had agreed to the mediation conditions set down by the archdiocese and sessions were being scheduled. Those conditions prevent victims from having a lawyer present and require that they drop any lawsuits before mediation.

"The challenge is, when people say mediation, we're talking about a pastoral mediation, a mediation that addresses that holistic sense of healing - spiritual/pastoral, emotional/psychological and restorative justice - which is very different from mediation that deals with financial issues," Topczewski said.

"That may be part of it. Attorneys who are paid percentages of settlements might approach it from a legal standpoint, but a bishop who is a pastor and a shepherd approaches it from a pastoral standpoint."

In addition to mediation, Dolan is continuing to meet privately with victims who request such meetings. He held several meetings Thursday at the Wauwatosa offices of Catholic Charities.

One of those victims, Jim Gillespie, 48, said afterward that Dolan had told him the names of all priests who had sexually abused minors would not be released after all because some victims had told him that would simply revictimize them.

Topczewski later confirmed that the decision was reconsidered after Dolan and others conferred with victims and with dioceses that had not had "overly positive" experiences after releasing names.

Victims argue that releasing names could encourage more victims to come forward.

A rift in relations surfaced in December when Minneapolis lawyer Jeffrey Anderson filed lawsuits against the archdiocese in Milwaukee County Circuit Court on behalf of five men who said they were sexually abused as youths by the late Father George Nuedling.

Wisconsin court decisions have blocked such lawsuits since 1995, but Anderson hopes to get the courts to change the earlier rulings. Meanwhile, two state legislators are drafting a bill that would accomplish the same thing.

On Thursday, Anderson filed suits for five more alleged victims of Nuedling.

"We did this in December hoping that we could get the archbishop and the archdiocese to meet us halfway in the mediation process," said Jim Ahler, 37, of Twin Lakes, one of the new plaintiffs. "They haven't, so we are being forced into playing our next card . . . another round of lawsuits."

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