MADISON, Wis. — A federal judge made a mistake when he ruled a $55 million cemetery trust fund off-limits in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s bankruptcy case, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects religious organizations from government interference, doesn’t protect the money because creditors seeking a share of the fund aren’t the government.

Attorneys for clergy sexual abuse victims have accused New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan of creating the trust fund when he was archbishop of Milwaukee to hide money from their clients.

Their lawsuit has potentially far-reaching consequences because many Roman Catholic dioceses hold money in trust, and the victory for victims in Milwaukee could pave the way for others elsewhere. The appeals court decision is likely to be appealed.

“This is a great decision that reverberates across the country,” said Jeff Anderson, an attorney for 350 of the victims.The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2011.