July 29, 2005

Victims appeal dismissal of suits

The Post-Crescent

The Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — Four people who have accused two priests of abusing them in the 1970s and 1980s filed an appeal Thursday of a judge’s dismissal of their lawsuits against the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

The appeal will provide a new legal challenge of a decade-old court ruling that gave religious organizations in Wisconsin blanket immunity from civil claims over their supervision of priests, attorneys for the accusers said.

It could open the door to new civil lawsuits against the church in cases where evidence shows church leaders transferred known sex-offender priests to a new church and didn’t tell the parish about it, attorney Jim Smith said.

“What we are alleging is the church should not enjoy First Amendment protection under these circumstances,” Smith said.

The appeal, filed with the 1st District Court of Appeals, seeks to overturn decisions by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Michael Guolee this year involving three alleged cases of sexual abuse by the late Rev. Siegfried Widera between 1973 and 1976 and one by the Rev. Franklyn Becker in 1982.

Posted by kshaw at July 29, 2005 07:57 AM