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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial calls for depositions of Weakland and Sklba to be made public

August 17, 2011

The following editorial was published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this evening:

Requiring Milwaukee Catholic Archbishop Rembert Weakland and retired Bishop Richard Sklba to testify under oath is appropriate. But don’t keep the depositions secret.

A bankruptcy judge ruled last week that retired Milwaukee Catholic Archbishop Rembert Weakland and retired Bishop Richard Sklba will have to answer questions under oath about the extent and alleged cover up of child sex abuse in the archdiocese.

That is indeed a “a major victory for survivors and families in this community,” as Peter Isely, Midwest director for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, put it. Victims have long sought to depose Sklba, who they believe has extensive knowledge of the church’s sex abuse history locally and was directly involved in reassigning abusers.

But it is not a major victory for the public. In Friday’s ruling, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley imposed strict limits on the duration of the depositions – scheduled for the weeks of Oct. 17 and 24 – and ordered them sealed from public view.

“This isn’t about embarrassing these people. This is about giving the parties relief,” Kelley said.

That’s true. This is not about embarrassing Weakland and Sklba, who in many ways served the archdiocese faithfully and well.

But it’s also not about protecting them from embarrassment for mistakes they may have made when it came to dealing with the abuse of children.

It’s about getting at the truth. And about making sure the public knows the truth.

Mike Finnegan, one of the attorneys for the victims, objected to the seal and signaled that his side would seek to lift the secrecy.

“A lot of what is happening here is to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he told Kelley. “This kept secret doesn’t serve the common good.”

In fact, it is secrecy and silence that brought the church to this point. It’s time for that secrecy to end and for the church and the courts to shine a light on what happened.

That is the only way to move forward and bring some reconciliation between church authorities, victims and the public.

Kelly should rethink her ruling.

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