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550 people in Milwaukee archdiocese file sex-abuse claims

About 550 people say the Milwaukee Catholic archdiocese should pay them damages for being sexually-abused by priests.

The claimants met a deadline yesterday to file claims as part of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection the archdiocese sought last January.

Milwaukee's claims are by far the largest among the eight Catholic dioceses to file for bankruptcy in the U.S. since 2004. Attorneys for priest abuse victims call the number of claims "staggering."

Lawyer James Stang says they represent just "the tip of the iceberg." He and other attorneys said their clients didn't file because they were intimidated by the process, or they didn't think they could win.

Milwaukee archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said the church tried its best to make the process as easy as possible, and to make sure that people knew about the filing deadline.

Bankruptcy Judge Susan Kelley will start reviewing claims next week. Victims will share an amount to be determined by the church and a creditors' committee.

Last year, the Milwaukee archdiocese only had $4.6 million in assets that could be put toward abuse claims. The archdiocese has paid out over $30 million to settle previous sex abuse cases. More than a dozen lawsuits were pending when the church filed for bankruptcy.