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Judges question whether $55-M is needed for cemetery maintenance

UNDATED (WSAU-Wheeler News) A federal appeals court has questioned a claim by the Milwaukee Archdiocese that it needs $55-million to maintain church cemeteries.

A three-judge panel held a hearing yesterday in Chicago on an effort by the Catholic Archdiocese to keep its cemetery trust fund away from creditors in the church's bankruptcy case. Most of those creditors are victims of sex abuse by former priests in the ten-county Milwaukee Archdiocese.

Federal Judge Rudolph Randa had previously ruled that the cemetery funds were off limits. Victims' attorneys told the appellate panel that Randa should not have ruled on the matter because he has relatives buried in one of the Catholic cemeteries. Trust fund attorney Brady Williamson said Randa's family bought the burial plots almost 40 years ago, and Randa has not had any involvement in the matter since then. Still, Judge Ann Claire Williams said she found the issue "troubling," and Randa should have made his involvement known before his ruling.

Judge Robert Dow questioned whether the church needs all $55-million in the cemetery fund -- and whether some could be diverted to other purposes. It's not known when the appellate court will make its ruling.