Magazine article Conscience

Court: Religious Freedom Not Grounds to Shield Milwaukee Church Assets

Magazine article Conscience

Court: Religious Freedom Not Grounds to Shield Milwaukee Church Assets

Article excerpt

A US COURT OF APPEALS reversed a lower court's ruling that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's $55 million burial fund could he shielded from clergy sexual abuse suits, the Wall Street Journal reported. In 2007, before the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011, then-Archbishop of Milwaukee Timothy Dolan created a $55 million trust for cemetery upkeep.

Reuters obtained a letter that Dolan sent in 2007 asking the Vatican's permission to transfer the funds. One month later, the Vatican approved. A 2013 decision by a federal judge had sustained the archdiocese's claim that using the funds to compensate the more than 500 abuse victims seeking redress would constitute a violation of religious freedom.

"These are sacred places that require perpetual care, and the trust believes both the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protect the exercise of these specific religious beliefs," Timothy Nixon, an attorney for the archdiocese, told the, Journal after the ruling was overturned.

Attorney Marci Hamilton, who served as special First Amendment counsel for the bankruptcy creditors committee, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel-. "This is a win for survivors of sexual abuse, and for every person or private entity threatened with the federal (or a state) RFRA." Pamela Foohey, associate professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, spoke to the Associated Press about the ruling's implications for religious organizations seeking exemptions: "If you want to be in the system and benefit from (Chapter 11 reorganization) you have to be subject to the same rules as everyone else. …

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