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Statement by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board

The following statement was published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board on December 31, 2011

http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/doctors-royalty-payments-raise-questions-for-uw-fk3jpkr-136449913.html

In what may be a watershed moment, an independent group of Milwaukee-area priests and victims of sexual abuse by priests are working together to urge other victims to come forward and for the church to be more transparent in its dealings.

We think the effort is laudable and could go far in healing the wounds that are still raw for many victims.

The new group took out a full-page ad in Tuesday’s Journal Sentinel, urging other victims to file for restitution in federal bankruptcy court before a Feb. 1 deadline. Four priests involved in the effort are working independently of the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese.

The group got started about a year ago after Peter Isely, the Midwest director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, approached Father James Connell following a news conference.

“In the Christian story, which I believe in and have faith in, the truth may seem buried and dead, but there’s always a way the truth will come back to life,” Isely said. “I’ve always had a deep conviction that survivors and priests of integrity can turn the corner on the sexual abuse crisis. It’s not going to be the bishops who do it.”

 

Building a trust: Sheboygan priest joins with victims to raise awareness of clergy abuse

The following story appeared in the Sheboygan Press on December 30, 2011

Story by: Bob Petrie/Photo by Gary Klein Sheboygan Press

http://www.sheboyganpress.com/article/20111231/SHE0101/112310437/Building-trust-Sheboygan-priests-join-victims-raise-awareness-clergy-abuse?odyssey=mod%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CFRONTPAGE

For 16 years, Vicky Schneider held a deep and terrible secret from everyone, before she could finally muster up the courage and conviction to tell her parents.

The secret was at the age of 14, in the late 1970s, Schneider was sexually abused by a man who was trusted, loved and respected by herself and her family — a priest who was serving in the Archdiocese of Green Bay.

The abuse occurred at the family home in the Green Bay area, during the summer following Schneider’s eighth-grade school year. For a long time, she felt a strong sense of shame, and a feeling that no one would ever believe her if she told someone what had really happened.

“We were a very conservative Catholic family. The church was God,” said Schneider, now 46 and a Sheboygan resident for the past 20 years.

“We were faithful Catholics, we went to Mass religiously as a family and that was something that we did, so I think any priest was always elevated in our estimation as I was taught, and I didn’t have any kind of sense, for one, that a priest could be a sexual person,” she said.

Schneider told her parents of the abuse at the age of 30, still thinking they might not believe her, but now coming to a point in her life where she got into the mindset that it didn’t really matter if they did or didn’t.

“I had to reach the point where I was OK if they didn’t believe me,” she said. “But they did.”

Schneider considers herself a victim and survivor of childhood sexual abuse by clergy. She recently joined a group of victim/survivors and four Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who meet regularly to raise awareness of the clergy abuse issue.

The group includes two Sheboygan-area priests, the Rev. James Connell, pastor of St. Clement and Holy Name parishes, and the Rev. Richard Cerpich, who serves at the St. Peter Claver parish.

This week, the group made a public appeal asking victims and survivors of sexual abuse by a priest to file for restitution in federal bankruptcy court by the Feb. 1, 2012 deadline and to offer their help to people coming forward to make a claim against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

For the past year, Connell, 69, and the other priests have been talking with members of the Midwest chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and the other survivors, and he said both sides have been able to build a level of trust.

“I don’t know just where it will go, but it’s going, headed to the idea that the truth needs to be known, so there can be justice,” Connell said. “And justice has to be based on the whole truth and healing and peace will only come about based on justice that is rooted in the whole and complete truth.”

Commitment to help

Connell remembers being in the pulpit in late 2010 when he made his own admission to his parish about his lack of effort to support abuse victims:

“There are people in pain, and suffering, and I need to be with them more,” Connell recalled telling his parishioners. “And I made a commitment then that I would stand publicly with the people.”

About three weeks after, Connell, who serves as a vice chancellor with the Milwaukee diocese, met with Peter Isely, the Midwest director of SNAP, following a press conference on the steps of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Milwaukee to support victims of clergy abuse.

Connell recalled that Isely asked him if the two could just sit down and talk, with no agenda, and start working through ways to bring attention to the abuse by priests in the diocese. Connell said he knew of some priests who would join the conversation, and the meetings began.

“The conversations were very much frank and from the heart, which was extremely helpful, but at times could be uncomfortable,” Connell said.

Archdiocese aware of effort

Connell said the Milwaukee Archdiocese and Archbishop Jerome Listecki are aware of the priests’ effort to meet and speak with the victims.

“I have not had one flicker of problems with Archbishop Listecki,” Connell said. “We don’t see each other very often, but whenever we have it has been very cordial.”

Julie Wolf, communications director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, said it’s a good thing that Connell and the other priests are reaching out and meeting with victims.

“But it’s also important to note that priests throughout the archdiocese have been doing this for a very long time through their own ministries and their own parishes,” she said.

Wolf said that Listecki “has been very visible in reaching out to victims.”

Isely, 51, who was abused by a priest in the 1970s, said that Connell has embraced the plight of abuse victims and is sincere in wanting change.

“Here’s a man who’s a pastor and a vice chancellor of the archdiocese … and so I definitely consider Jim somebody who is a friend,” he said. “It’s not just the stance he’s taking; I just have developed a real warm regard for him and he’s somebody that stood with us and with me, shoulder to shoulder, and that’s a bond that becomes very strong over time.”

What’s ironic is that Isely and SNAP once had sought to have Connell thrown off the abuse review board of the Milwaukee archdiocese because they believed that in 1997, while reinvestigating the case of sexual assault of deaf students by the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, Connell failed to forward the results of the investigation to civil authorities.

Isely now believes that Connell did support making the records — which are sealed — public.

Connell, who is still on the review board, remembers SNAP accusing him of a cover-up in the Murphy case, but said, “I had nothing to do with (a) cover-up … my whole job was trying to get that guy out of the priesthood.”

Seeking a ‘new day’ for the church

This past week, the group took out a full-page advertisement in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to publicize the bankruptcy court’s upcoming deadline.

The advertisement also includes a pledge by the priests and members of the Midwest chapter of SNAP, to work together on maintaining a dialogue that they hope will lead to healing and hope for survivors, and a “new day for the church.”

The ad was written in tandem by the priests and the survivors, and took several weeks to compile.

“It was not an easy process,” Isely said, adding, “When you put something into writing, you’ve really got to think about what you’re saying.”

Sheboygan has had several clergy abuse cases over the years, most notably when the former Rev. William Effinger, who served at Holy Name Parish from 1979 to 1992, was arrested for abuse of young boys and eventually was sent to prison, where he died several years later.

Effinger was found to have had a pattern of abuse at assignments in Lake Geneva and Kenosha before arriving at Holy Name, but Connell said the parish was never told of his past behavior.

“If they knew about Effinger in Lake Geneva and Kenosha, how could they in good conscience send him here?” said Connell, who came to Holy Name and St. Clement years after Effinger was removed. “If he never had been sent here and had been treated as the criminal he was … then all this stuff in Sheboygan wouldn’t have occurred.”

Schneider, one of five victims to list their names on the advertisement, also attended the Milwaukee news conference. She hasn’t filed a claim against the archdiocese, and never took any action against the priest who abused her, saying she did not wish to go through the trauma of a trial.

She moved to Sheboygan in the early 1990s, about the time the Effinger case became public, and remembers thinking for the first time that clergy abuse could also happen to other people, not just herself.

“I never spoke about it to anybody in all those years, because it was my secret,” she said. “And then to discover that, ‘Wow, this happens to other people.'”

‘Fairly cautious’ approach

As a female victim of clergy abuse, Schneider believes it is important for her to be part of the group, even though she is “fairly cautious” about her participation.

“Anybody who has approached the church as a survivor each has their story of how they were either dismissed or they were caught in this machinery of not being listened to or not being believed or being deceived in some way,” Schneider said.

Schneider, who is not a member of SNAP, said that today she has a “very profound spiritual life,” and has hopes for the group’s success.

“I think what we’re doing is a good thing and it’s unique and I’m very proud to be part of that,” she said.

Connell said he is hearing from some abuse victims since the newspaper advertisement was published, and eventually would like to see the effort expand.

“If this can get out and around, maybe priests in other parts of the country will want to do the same thing with survivors — priests and survivors, sitting down, talking together, working together to find a way to do it right.”

 

Unlikely group reaches out to victims abused by clergy

The following story aired on CBS 58 news

Story by: Vanessa Murphy

MILWAUKEE — It’s an unusual alliance: survivors of sex abuse by clergy and Catholic priests. The group is banning together to warn about Febuary 1st deadline for anyone abused in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to receive justice in court.

“We want to make sure that anybody that’s been harmed in the archdiocese by sexual assault or rape or abuse comes forward and has that opportunity to come forward to the court and time is running out,” said Peter Isely, the Midwest director of SNAP, or Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. “It may be likely that they’ll never be an opportunity for restitution through the legal system in some way for victims in this archdiocese.”

Clergy, survivors sign plea for Milwaukee sex abuse victims to come forward

The following story appeared in the National Catholic Reporter on December 28, 2011

Story by Tom Roberts

http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/clergy-survivors-sign-plea-milwaukee-sex-abuse-victims-come-forward

An alliance of priests, clergy sexual abuse survivors and advocates for abuse victims composed and signed a full-page ad that appeared Dec. 27 in The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel encouraging “victim/survivors” to come forward before Feb. 1, the deadline for filing abuse claims against the Milwaukee archdiocese through an impending bankruptcy proceeding.

The ad also calls upon other priests of the diocese to “join us and insist upon a full and public confession” by the archdiocese, including open publication of all abuse-related documents held by the archdiocese and the religious orders serving in the archdiocese. The signers also ask the archdiocese to provide “a full and explanatory list of all clerics and employees who have harmed children and minors.”

Publication of the notice preceded a news conference scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday to address the issues. Peter Isely, Midwest director of SNAP (Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests) issued a statement Monday describing the effort as “the first time in the Catholic sexual abuse crisis [that] a group of priests and clergy sexual assault survivors” had jointly published a statement urging “public accountability and transparency from church officials.”

The group was originally brought together by Isely and Fr. James Connell, vice chancellor of the archdiocese. During the past two years, the pair has worked on a number of initiatives to advocate for survivors of sex abuse and to call for increasing accountability on the part of church leadership. The first year, the two conducted a number of “candle vigil services” for victims of sex abuse and others who wanted to get together, especially in parishes where it was known priests had abused children.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Connell said he and Isely had been together for a demonstration on the steps of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist last year when Isely asked if he and other survivors could get together with interested priests for discussions.

Those discussions, Connell said, led to the ad. As part of the effort, the archdiocese has distributed signs displayed at all the parishes notifying victims of the Feb. 1 deadline date.

Julie Wolf, communications director for the archdiocese, said while the ad represents a more public stance than most priests have taken, “It is important to note that priests throughout the archdiocese of Milwaukee have reached out to victims of clergy sexual abuse through their own ways in their own ministries in their parishes. Priests in the archdiocese have been doing this for years.”

She said Archbishop Jerome Listecki continues to urge victims to come forward before the deadline, adding that the archdiocese is about to conduct a national ad campaign to advise victims who might be outside the archdiocese to come forward.

Regarding the listing of priests, she said the archdiocese has been doing that on its website since 2004 and continues to add information on those cases where there are “substantiated allegations” of sexual abuse.

In addition to Connell and Isely, the ad was signed by John Pilmaier, SNAP Wisconsin director, who is also a survivor; Mike Sneesby SNAP Milwaukee director and a survivor; Marilyn Pilmaier, John’s mother; Vicky A. Schneider and Karen Konter, survivors; Fr. Richard Cerpich; Fr. Gregory Greiten; and Fr. Howard Hasse.

The ad contains contact information for community resources for sex abuse victims as well as the number for the archdiocese.

In the statement, the priests write: “We publicly declare our unqualified support to every victim/survivor. We hold ourselves and our institution fully accountable for any action or inaction that may have allowed these crimes to occur, the offender to go unpunished, and other children to be harmed. We are truly sorry that this happened to you.”

Church and community healing, the priests continue, will require “a full institutional accounting of the crimes that have taken place in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Victim/survivors and their families have told us how important it is that they know the truth about what happened in their church. It is also important for each one of us.”

The priests acknowledge they are late to the cause, but “making this statement now is better than remaining silent.”

Isely said the alliance between priests and survivors is an unusual one, “but it is a natural alliance.” The two groups most affected by the scandal are survivors and priests, he said, and the priesthood has been deeply wounded.

“Priests’ ability to preach the gospel has been severely compromised, not just by predator priests and the cover-up, but by the way the priesthood itself worldwide allows for clergy who have raped and assaulted children to remain clerics,” he said.

Even in the United States, where a zero-tolerance policy in place, Isely said a priest determined to have committed an act of sexual abuse “is removed from public ministry, but not from the priesthood.”

In other words, said Isely, a licensed therapist, “You don’t lose your license. It’s the only occupation in civil society that’s allowed to operate that way.”

He said he hopes the alliance of priests and victims in Milwaukee continues to grow.

“This is the conversation that needs to occur,” he said.

Some survivors, reluctant at first to be in the same room with priests, have come to realize that it is not all priests who are the problem, “but only certain priests.”

In his case, Isely said, the conversation has been “healing and challenging. It is very easy [for survivors] to get stuck when you’re trying to fight this battle, it is easy to stay in a position where you do not want to try again or reach out again” to individual priests.

“They’re not the problem ultimately,” he said.

See earlier NCR coverage of Connell and Isely here: Critical question leads priest to challenge lax abuse policies

Priests join victims in call for justice

 

The following article appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on December 27, 2011.

By Mark Johnson

http://www.jsonline.com/features/religion/priests-join-victims-in-call-for-justice-uj3j9ab-136292483.html

Calling it a historic chapter in the history of the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, a group of victims and priests has banded together to call for more transparency from church officials and to urge other victims to come forward and file for restitution in federal bankruptcy court before a Feb. 1 deadline.

The priests and victims have been meeting quietly for roughly a year since Peter Isely, the Midwest director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, approached Father James Connell after a news conference.

At a news conference Tuesday at Plymouth Church in Milwaukee, Isely said the idea for the alliance between priests and victims was inspired by the Gospel.

“In the Christian story, which I believe in and have faith in, the truth may seem buried and dead, but there’s always a way the truth will come back to life,” he said. “I’ve always had a deep conviction that survivors and priests of integrity can turn the corner on the sexual abuse crisis. It’s not going to be the bishops who do it.”

Connell said that as the priests and victims listened to one another what emerged was “a sense of hope. . . . This hope is something to be kept alive.”

The four priests involved forged the union with the survivors group independent of the archdiocese.

“It’s a good thing that this group of priests is stepping forward to reach out to victims of clergy sexual abuse,” said Julie Wolf, communications director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. “But it’s also important to note that priests throughout the archdiocese have been doing this for a very long time through their own ministries and their own parishes.”

Wolf added that Archbishop Jerome Listecki “has been very visible in reaching out to victims.” She said the archdiocese is starting the second round of a national advertising campaign aimed at reminding people who have been abused by clergy in the archdiocese to come forward before the Feb. 1 deadline. The campaign includes print advertisements that ran a few months ago in national publications such as the New York Times and USA Today.

The independent group of priests and victims took out a full-page ad in Tuesday’s Journal Sentinel, urging further abuse victims to come forward by the deadline in bankruptcy court.

The archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January and has maintained it has less than $10 million available to pay claims. As of late November, about 100 people had filed claims against the archdiocese, saying they were abused by a priest or employee of the church.

Tuesday’s newspaper ad said in part: “As priests and pastors of the archdiocese, we publicly declare our unqualified support to every victim/survivor. We hold ourselves and our institution fully accountable for any action or inaction that may have allowed these crimes to occur, the offender to go unpunished, and other children to be harmed. We are truly sorry that this happened to you.”

Members of both groups, the priests and the victims, said it was not easy at first to sit down together.

Lynn Pilmaier, the mother of an abuse victim, said that when she was first approached to participate in the group, “I wasn’t real eager.” The last people she wanted to sit down with were Catholic priests, she said.

Father Howard G. Haase, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Waukesha, said he had grown to regard some of the victims who were in the news often as his enemies.

“You are easy to dislike,” he explained, “when all you are is a sound bite, a face on TV.” Both Haase and Pilmaier said the dialogue they engaged in during these meetings was encouraging.

“We have a long way to go,” Haase said, “but I really believe this is a tremendous start.”

Mike Sneesby, another member of the survivors group, said the alliance isn’t simply about “chasing money. We want the truth.”

Deadline nearing in Milwaukee archdiocese bankruptcy

The following story aired on Wisconsin Public Radio

By Chuck Quirmbach

To listen to interview click here: WPR-Bankruptcy

(MILWAUKEE) Almost twelve months after the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, a major milepost in the case is approaching.

Federal bankruptcy Judge Susan Kelley has given people who say they were sexually abused by Milwaukee Archdiocese clergy members until February 1 to file a confidential claim in the bankruptcy case. John Pilmaier heads the Wisconsin chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. Pilmaier says now’s the time to come forward.

Pilmaier says once the so-called bar date of February 1 passes, Judge Kelley will consider those claims, the tens of millions of dollars of other financial liabilities the Archdiocese has, and the church’s assets. The Archdiocese is expected to try to get some claims thrown out and try to block claims involving abuse by clergy from religious orders.

In another key development since the Chapter 11 filing last January, Two former top church officials had to answer questions under oath about child abuse in the archdiocese. Pilmaier says he hopes that testimony will eventually be released.

The Archdiocese declined comment for this story, saying it prefers to talk closer to the February 1 bar date.

Priests, clergy abuse victims working together as restitution deadline looms

The following story aired on WITI Fox 6 news

Story by Beverly Taylor

http://www.fox6now.com/news/witi-20111227-priests-and-snap-restitution-deadline,0,5760712.story

Catholic priests and victims of clergy abuse united Tuesday in Milwaukee, and we’re told this is the first of its kind of partnership in the country. It comes after the two sides began to really talk to one another and listen, and comes with a sense of urgency, as a deadline approaches for filing a case for restitution through the Milwaukee Archdiocese bankruptcy process, for victims of abuse.

Priests and victims of childhood sexual abuse by clergy took out a full page ad in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, talking about clergy sex abuse. To many, the groups are bitter enemies, but all this changed about a year ago. For the past year, a small group of priests and victims have been meeting and talking, and developing a message, urging victims of abuse to meet the deadline for filing a case for restitution through the Milwaukee Archdiocese bankruptcy process. That deadline is February 1st, 2012, and is an important one, for if victim’s don’t file their case by that date, they may not ever have an opportunity for restitution through the legal system.

The group is also offering resources for victims. “Helping them to get the truth out, and to begin the process of healing,” Father Gregory Greiten of St. Bernadette Parish in Milwaukee said.

Peter Isley, with the Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, says those most affected by the sexual abuse have been the victims, and their families, but also priests of integrity. “It has really affected their struggle to bring the message of the gospel to their communities, so that wound to the priesthood needs to be healed,” Isley said. Isley says this alliance of priests and survivors is one-of-a-kind. “There has never been an alliance of surivors and priests of any kind, that has been joined together and trying to publicly express first, our desire for justice together, and for healing together,” Isley said.

Vicky Schneider was victimized when she was 14, and is one of those named in the ad, urging others to come forward. “I have found healing. It’s not perfect. It’s a journey, and it will continue to be a journey,” Schneider said.

The small core group of priests and survivors are hoping their group will expand, and the dialogue will continue, as well as the demand for truth. FOX6 is told Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki knows about the group, and has neither encouraged, nor discouraged it.