In this June 28, 2013 photo, from left, Peter Isely, Arthur Budzinski, Fr. James Connell and Monica Barrett talk about the importance of the release of priest abuse files by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on the front stairs of St. John’s Cathedral in Milwaukee. Clergy sex abuse victims have long accused the Archdiocese of Milwaukee of spending more money on lawyers to protect itself than to care for those who suffered at the hands of abusive priests. An Associated Press analysis of documents released tMonday, July 1 found most of the $30 million the archdiocese paid out through mid-2012 went to victim settlements and therapy, but the bulk of it went to just a few victims _ while hundreds of others got no money at all. They include Barrett, who said she was raped in a church at age 8 by William Effinger. She sued the archdiocese in 1993, when she was 32, but a judge dismissed her case, saying too much time had passed. She appealed, but got nowhere. Meanwhile, the archdiocese sued her for $14,000 to cover its legal costs. (AP Photo/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mark Felix)
Brian Flynn, now 39, told archdiocese officials that Knighton had abused him during the late 1980s, when the priest was on the faculty at a Catholic high school in Milwaukee and both lived in the suburb of Wauwatosa. About a month later, Bersch reported that he had been abused in the 1970s.
The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of sexual assault, but Flynn and Bersch gave permission for their names to be used.
The statute of limitations had passed in Bersch’s case, but Knighton was charged with second-degree sexual assault in Flynn’s case. Knighton and Flynn both testified at the 2003 trial, with Flynn describing Knighton kissing and touching him and Knighton insisting the actions never happened. A jury found Knighton not guilty.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was then archbishop in Milwaukee, still took steps to have Knighton removed from the priesthood. In a March 2004 letter to the Vatican office responsible for clergy sex abuse cases, Dolan noted the archdiocese had received a third report of abuse and believed there could be a fourth case as well.
“After preliminary investigation, I am satisfied that these have the semblance of truth to them,” Dolan wrote.
A church trial found two of the allegations, those made by Flynn and Bersch, were valid. Knighton wasn’t removed from the priesthood, however, until 2011 after a yearslong appeal.
Knighton’s criminal defense attorney, Gerald P. Boyle, said he still believes the former priest is innocent. Boyle criticized the archdiocese for not contacting him during its investigation.
“I couldn’t understand that,” he said, adding, “I have no reason to believe it was anything other than a good verdict.”
Knighton’s bankruptcy claim has been transferred to a federal bankruptcy trustee in Arizona, where the ex-priest filed for bankruptcy in February 2011. John Carter, the attorney for the bankruptcy trustee responsible for Knighton’s case, said in an email that the claim was being pursued and any money would go to pay Knighton’s debts.
Bersch and Flynn are not involved in the bankruptcy case.
Bersch, a 53-year-old business development executive who now lives in Illinois, said he settled with the archdiocese in 2004 for $40,000. He described Knighton as a warm, outgoing, bear of a man whom everyone loved. He said he was about 12 when the priest befriended him, taking him to movies, out to eat and for sleepovers before eventually molesting him.
“The only thing that’s important me today is that this man never gets the opportunity to teach or be around children,” Bersch said.
The Arizona Department of Education said Knighton is licensed to teach in that state but couldn’t say whether he was actually working as a teacher.
Flynn said the bankruptcy is difficult because he worked hard to come to peace with what happened, and every time Knighton comes up, “it triggers the pain, and the helplessness.”
“It’s like this is never going to go away,” he said.