- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

MILWAUKEE (AP) - A man who was abused by a priest while attending a school for deaf children cannot set aside a settlement with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to pursue a claim in bankruptcy court, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The man identified in court documents as John Doe settled with the archdiocese for $80,000 in 2007, after participating in mediation set up by the church.

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2011, saying it wouldn’t be able to pay if lawsuits filed by other victims went against it. Doe and hundreds of victims then filed claims in federal bankruptcy court.

Doe’s attorneys said archdiocese officials deceived him by telling him $80,000 was all he could get, when some others received $100,000 to $200,000. Doe also did not realize the extent of the archdiocese’s knowledge about abuse he and other students suffered or that the church was paying some priests to leave, the attorneys said in court documents.

A bankruptcy judge and then a district court judge said Wisconsin law doesn’t allow statements made in mediation to be used as evidence in court, and therefore, Doe could not pursue his claim. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

“Although one might contend it is unjust that a person like Doe cannot recover if he was in fact fraudulently induced into signing a settlement agreement, our task is to apply the Wisconsin statute as it is written,” Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote in the court’s decision.

Archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said the decision supported the point the church has been trying to make.

“People who have already had settlements with the archdiocese shouldn’t be eligible for additional compensation when there are other people who haven’t received anything,” he said.

Peter Isely, the Midwest director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that while the court decided the case on legal technicalities, victims will get a different message.

“They’re going to hear it once again as, ‘We were lied to, we were deceived and we were misled, and the archdiocese is going to get away with it,’” he said.

Mike Finnegan, an attorney for Doe, said 85 other people with claims in bankruptcy court also signed settlements with the archdiocese, and attorneys were trying to figure out how those victims might be affected by the decision.

Attorneys for the archdiocese, abuse victims and others have been arguing over the archdiocese’s proposed reorganization plan after a September attempt at mediation failed to resolve the case. The plan proposed by the archdiocese would set aside $4 million for roughly 130 people who were abused by priests who worked directly for the archdiocese, but nothing for hundreds of others abused by religious order priests or laypeople.

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