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Bankruptcy Court to consider depositions of Weakland, Sklba

July 19, 2011

Statement by Peter Isely

The headline in the Journal Sentinel on July 15th, “Bankruptcy judge opposes state court depositions for Weakland, Sklba” although accurate, is a bit confusing. The story detailed the arguments made in bankruptcy court over the possible depositions of retired bishops Rembert Weakland, and Richard Sklba.

The legal apparatus and strategy of the church is designed to do one thing:  protect bishops who protect child molesters.   That is why bishops conveniently file for bankruptcy when there are no more legal moves left to keep them from begin put under oath to answer questions about what they did and did not do about offender clergy.  And, if the bishop who covered up the sex crimes is old enough, use legal maneuvers to buy him time until he dies  and he can take his secrets with him to the grave.

When a business files for bankruptcy there is an automatic “stay” or freeze on all legal proceedings  currently filed, which includes the taking of depositions in civil cases.  After years of delay, bishop Sklba was scheduled to finally be deposed in early January.  Two days before his deposition the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy.

Sklba’s January deposition was for sex abuse fraud cases filed in Wisconsin state court against the archdiocese.  The bankruptcy Creditors Committee, comprised of victim/survivors, asked the court on Friday to lift the stay on Sklba’s deposition, along with several other key defendants and witnesses in the cover up, including several offender priests.

To complicate matters more, another state court has ruled, in the fraud cases, that the archdiocese cannot pay any future settlements with insurance money, since insurance money cannot be used to pay for damages which are the result of fraud.  The archdiocese has appealed this decision (of course) to the Wisconsin State Supreme Court.  The appeal (of course) could take years.  All depositions in these state cases (of course) are put under a stay.  So, there is not one, but two legal stays in place right now.  That’s what you get when you hire, as the archdiocese has, 29 lawyers.
So, how did Sklba get scheduled for a deposition in January if there was a stay on his testifying until the Supreme Court heard the archdiocese appeal?  Last year, one of the judges in the fraud cases, Judge Cooper, partially lifted this stay to allow Weakland, Sklba and key witnesses over age 75 to be deposed because of their age and the possibility of illness or fading memories.  In Fact, the Creditors Committee asked Judge Kelley on Frinday to use Judge Cooper’s parameters.

Complicated enough?

Yesterday’s ruling, to my best understanding, will not lift the stay in the state civil cases (thus the headline) BUT will allow depositions to proceed in federal bankruptcy court, under federal rules.  The details of those depositions are going to be worked out at the next hearing, which is August 12.  Judge Kelly was quite clear that she saw very little reason why, under federal rules, Sklba and others will not be deposed.  Bottom line:  yesterday’s ruling has likely sped up the depositions of Sklba and Weakland, because the depositions in state court will probably take many more years to occur.  And so, I am giving yesterday’s decision a qualified victory for survivors.   Because as long as the right questions get asked, under oath, and made public:  who cares what court it takes place in?



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