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Orange County, California

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John Bisnar
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State Supreme Court Reinstates Fraud Claims Against Milwaukee Archdiocese

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Clergy abuse victims win a court victory.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court in a landmark decision, ruled that victims of sexual abuse in the hands of priests may be able to file fraud claims against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, although the court said victims cannot sue for negligence because the three-year statute of limitations had run out on several cases.

Advocates and plaintiffs’ attorneys said they were pleased with the state high court’s decision because it will give victims a chance they never had to hold accountable both the perpetrators and the diocese, which sheltered and protected them against prosecution. The statute of limitations in fraud claims is six years and the court said the clock would only start ticking from the moment the plaintiff becomes aware of the fraud.

The cases the court was looking at involved four victims. Three were abused by Siegfried Widera between 1973 and 1976 and one other victim was an altar boy molested by Franklyn Becker. Victims and their attorneys say that the diocese committed fraud in both these cases because church officials not only denied to parishioners that the priests had committed offenses against children and that they were a danger to other children, but eventually sent them both to other parishes here in California where they abused more children.

It is extremely difficult for victims to come forward and tell their stories. To start with, these were young boys who were in a vulnerable situation. They were abused by a person whom they looked up to, trusted and held in high reverence. It is not surprising that they came forward as adults. That’s very common. But unfortunately, there are time limitations to file these lawsuits. The legal system waits for no one. I can also understand some of the attorneys’ bittersweet feelings on this ruling because although the decision is to be welcomed, it is tougher to prove fraud than it is to prove negligence.

But I sure am glad that the courts opened a window despite closing a door for these hurt victims. Now, they at least have some form of opportunity to find justice and make the Catholic Church pay for their callous disregard for the welfare of their parishioners. To knowingly protect a person who has committed a despicable crime against numerous children is inexcusable and it is despicable. It really makes you wonder how holy and Christ-like these men are! Any apology from the Catholic Church will be too late and too weak for any of these victims to accept, in my opinion.

We have seen that clegy abuse happens all over the place – be it a church, temple or synagogue. As long as we have perverted men of cloth who take advantage of their unique situation, this problem will be ongoing. If you or a loved one has been a victim of clergy abuse, call me, John Bisnar. We offer a free and completely confidential consultation where we can help you examine your legal options. Just remember that it wasn’t your fault.