For immediate release: Monday, July 1
Keeping their secrets until the last possible day, Milwaukee’s archbishop finally released long-hidden records about heinous clergy sex crimes and cover ups today. He did so, however, while working hard to “spin” the documents, obscure the truth and deceive parishioners and the public about this on-going scandal.
We beg Catholics everywhere to carefully read these files. Kids are safer when cover ups are unveiled and understood. And the horrific truth is best understood when the actual writings and deeds of Catholic officials are studied, not when they are spun or summarized or sanitized by church public relations experts. We hope that Catholics and citizens will ignore the carefully crafted spin that Listecki continues to put out designed to minimize the inexcusable, recklessness, and callousness of dozens of his colleagues and supervisors.
We hope law enforcement officials will also scour these files. We suspect that there are some current or former Wisconsin Catholic officials who may yet be prosecuted for destroying evidence, intimidating victims, obstructing justice or other violations. The archaic, predator-friendly statute of limitations may prevent some (but perhaps not all) of the predators from being pursued. But we hope that police and prosecutors will work very hard to determine if any of those who committed or concealed these horrific crimes might be charged.
We hope that Catholics will look carefully at how their donations are being manipulated to deny justice to victims. We believe the records will show that millions of dollars have been deliberately – and deceptively – shifted in secrecy to funds that will enable selfish Catholic officials to hang on to them.
The records show Milwaukee church officials pretending to be powerless over predators who haven’t yet been defrocked by a callous, slow-moving Vatican bureaucracy. We believe bishops should insist that suspended predator priests live in remote, independent, secure treatment centers while still on the church payroll. Bishops act as if they can do nothing until Rome defrocks a pedophile. But that’s irresponsible. As long as a priest is a priest, his bishop can order him to live in a particular place. That place – for credibly accused child molesting clerics – is in a treatment facility, not in a neighborhood among unsuspecting families.
On his blog, Archbishop Jerome Listecki claims that Catholic officials did “their best with what they knew at the time.” He suggests that it was largely ignorance that led Milwaukee church supervisors to ignore, minimize, hide and enable horrific crimes against children.
The documents will prove that they did know better. Archdiocesan officials consistently refused to call police or notify parishioners about known and suspected clergy child sex crimes. Church officials are smart, well-educated men guided by expensive lawyers. They have known, for decades, that child sex abuse was illegal. They have known, for decades, that parishioners deserved to know if their pastor, priest or teacher was a child molester.
Yet they insisted on protecting themselves, their reputations and their clerical careers by intimidating victims, threatening whistleblowers, discrediting witnesses, ignoring police, stonewalling prosecutors, lobbying to defeat child abuse protection laws, and deceiving parishioners while paying secret settlements and quietly transferring predators.
Listecki states that “Terrible things happened to innocent children.” That’s obvious. But it’s sheer deception to imply that these were somehow unforeseeable tragedies that couldn’t be prevented. They were not. These were horrific crimes committed by twisted priests and concealed and enabled by Catholic officials. For decades, they were quietly ‘handled’ by church staff and defense lawyers and public relations experts who knew that they were being deceptive.
And Listecki is wrong when he claims “People were ill-equipped to respond -- to victims and families, and to perpetrators.” Police and prosecutors were well-equipped to respond. But Milwaukee church officials refused – time and time again, decade after decade – to notify them.
Finally, it’s only because of brave and persistent victims that these thousands of pages of long-secret church records about predator priests are being made public. Wisconsin citizens and Catholics are in their debt. We hope their courage and determination will inspire others who were twice betrayed – first by a child molesting cleric and again by callous church officials – to step forward, expose wrongdoers, protect kids and start healing.