The Catholic Archbishop of Milwaukee Attempts to Justify His Refusal to Cooperate with the WI AG’s Probe, SNAP Responds
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s recent blog post attempting to justify his refusal to cooperate with the Wisconsin Attorney General’s investigation into Catholic abuse is both disturbing and disingenuous. When the Archbishop writes that the scandal “was the fault of criminals who used the sanctity of the priesthood to commit crimes,” it seems to us that he is willfully ignoring the truths uncovered by earlier probes around the country and the world, such as the report issued in 2018 in Pennsylvania.
That is, the scandal was not just about the abusers; the bigger scandal was that Catholic officials used a “playbook” to conceal the truth from parishioners and the public. Bishops ignored the pain of the victims and the danger to other children. Instead, they purposely moved perpetrators from parish to parish. We are convinced that these cover ups continue to this day, and Archbishop Listecki’s response appears to us to illustrate that our suspicions are warranted.
If the Archbishop has nothing to hide, and if all the records have already been thoroughly examined as he claims, we do not see why he would waste parishioner donations on lawyers instead of simply cooperating with law enforcement. If the AG gave his Archdiocese a clean bill of health, Archbishop Listecki could then truly say that all the secrets were revealed and that the community was as safe as it could be.
We also take exception to Archbishop Listecki’s assertion that the list maintained by his Archdiocese shows “full transparency.” The current list only contains the names of 48 Archdiocesan clergy. The list maintained by BishopAccountability.org includes priests from religious orders, from other dioceses, and a nun who all lived or worked in the Archdiocese and sexually abused children. That list has 79 names.
Sadly, we suspect that if a full and honest accounting were ever done of all the boys and girls who were abused by clergy, brothers, nuns, lay employees and volunteers in the Archdiocese that dozens, if not hundreds, of names that would be added to even BishopAccountability’s list. To illustrate, BishopAccountability names clergy and brothers from at least eight religious orders that abused children in Milwaukee. Over one hundred of these Catholic orders have not published lists of abusers. One could expect that many of those secretive orders moved their members, including abusers, in and out of the Archdiocese.
Moreover, we know that the former Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, admitted in sworn testimony to shredding abuse files. The only way those lost records can possibly be resurrected is if the Attorney General calls for hearings and invites victims forward. We saw in Pennsylvania’s 2018 Grand Jury process that a hotline and secular oversight resulted in thousands of victims coming forward and sharing their stories. If similar information could be collected in Wisconsin, it could not only help survivors heal, it might also prevent today’s children from being harmed.
Last, but not least, we take strong exception to the assertion by Archbishop Listecki that these crimes all occurred in the past, indicating that the Archdiocese’s “education and prevention efforts are effective.” Delayed disclosure is the norm, not the exception, for child sexual abuse survivors. The average age at the time of reporting is about 52 years. Today’s victims may not come forward for decades.
We believe that a robust investigation by the Wisconsin AG will uncover facts that are necessary to ensure a safer Archdiocese and community. The additional disclosures will also help abuse survivors on the path to healing. Archbishop Listecki should welcome law enforcement expertise and stop stonewalling and making feeble excuses for his refusal to cooperate.
CONTACT: Peter Isely, SNAP Wisconsin ([email protected], 414-429-7259), Dan McNevin, SNAP Treasurer ([email protected], 415-341-6417) Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager (267-261-0578, [email protected]), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (517-974-9009, [email protected])
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)