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Hundreds in Milwaukee reported abuse by clergy
Milwaukee Archdiocese gives details on numbers

By TOM HEINEN-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sept. 17, 2003

In its first public accounting of victims, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee reported Wednesday that 250 to 300 people have contacted it since 1994 for help with problems related to the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

Although the total included family members of those allegedly abused, most of the people were victims, said Jerry Topczewski, archdiocesan communications director.

The information was contained in an "Accountability Report" being mailed this week along with a letter from Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan to Catholic households throughout the 10-county archdiocese.

The report, more detailed than one Dolan issued last September shortly after he was installed as archbishop, also has been provided to two state legislative committees that are holding a joint hearing today on a new bill intended to better protect the public from sexual abusers in the clergy of any denomination or faith.

In a cover letter that accompanies the report, Dolan says, "The first steps have been taken. Wrong has been admitted and the circumstances made known. The Archdiocese has taken steps to be very public about what happened, and caring and compassionate toward those victimized."

Dolan promises in the letter that the archdiocese will follow its policies and meet all of the new requirements adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, adding that he will work to "make sure the Church in the United States adheres to its pledge of justice for victim-survivors, and accountability for perpetrators of these crimes."

The new report stops short of identifying perpetrators, something victim advocates and some legislators want.

"I join survivor-victims in their call for fair and just settlements, and urge the Catholic Church to release the names of all abusive priests in Wisconsin," said Rep. Peggy Krusick (D-Milwaukee), an author of the pending sexual abuse legislation. "It's important that these molesters be identified to protect children from future abuse."

When Dolan first arrived here, he said he would follow recommendations of an archdiocesan sexual abuse commission and release all names. He later changed his mind.

Topczewski acknowledged that advocates for disclosure cite good reasons, including encouraging other victims to come forward.

But he said Dolan and archdiocesan officials listened to concerns raised by some victims, who said publicizing their perpetrators' names would force them to relive their abuse, or might indirectly identify them as victims. Officials also considered such things as the impact of disclosure on deceased priests' families, he said.

45 priests involved
Substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors have been made against 45 present or former priests, 15 of whom are now dead, over all past years. One deceased deacon and one former deacon had substantiated allegations against them, while an unresolved allegation against a third deacon is pending, the report says.

Although the archdiocese previously reported that at least 43 priests had records of sexual abuse, this was the first time that allegations against deacons were revealed. Deacons, most of whom are married, are ordained men who can preach at Mass and preside at weddings if they have the proper training but cannot say Mass or hear confessions.

The 45 priests with one or more substantiated records of abuse represent 4.9% of the 916 diocesan priests who have served here since 1935, the earliest year for which personnel lists are published in the archdiocese's current Pastoral Handbook.

All but two incidents of abuse occurred before 1990, though some were reported only recently as the nationwide sexual abuse scandal received publicity and Dolan held public listening sessions for victims.

The report says that there were allegations against 55 priests, but that 10 of the cases were not substantiated.

Of the 45 that were: 15 are dead; six left active ministry or sought laicization (a return to the lay state) prior to 2002; Dolan is asking the Vatican to laicize seven others; and five are seeking voluntary laicization.

Of the remainder, six are restricted from all active ministry and from identifying themselves as priests; four others face the possibility of a canonical trial; one has appealed his case to Rome; and one case is still under investigation.

Thirty of the living perpetrators have been publicly identified by the archdiocese, victims or the news media, the report says. Of the others, six are in serious ill health or are advanced in age, and four are no longer in active ministry and are under restrictions not to identify themselves as priests or to wear clerical garb. The five others were laicized prior to 2002.

$153,000 spent on therapy
The report repeats some financial information that Topczewski recently released for the fiscal year that ended June 30 - including that nearly $153,000 was spent for therapy and other victim assistance, and that $115,000 was spent for pastoral mediation agreements with victims. But it also reveals for the first time that $432,471 was spent on attorney fees "involving three cases where litigation was filed against the Archdiocese."

Also, the report notes that the archdiocese underwent an audit in early September by the Gavin Group, the independent agency selected by the U.S. bishops' Office for Child and Youth Protection. The report says that the initial results were positive and that the archdiocese is in full compliance with the charter requirements adopted by the bishops in Dallas last year.

Today's legislative hearing at the Capitol is on Senate and Assembly bills that would, among other things: extend time periods for filing civil or criminal suits against perpetrators; make it possible for many victims to sue churches for the actions of their sexually abusive clergy; and require that clergy report suspected abuse to civil authorities unless the knowledge came in the sacrament of confession or confidential counseling.

However, the bill is drawing criticism from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests because it doesn't give past victims an opportunity to file civil suits even if the statute of limitations in their cases has expired.


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests