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Listecki’s hasty public dismissal of vice-chancellor’s modest child protection proposals worries victim/survivors

October 27, 2011

October 27, 2011

Statement by Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director and John Pilmaier, SNAP Wisconsin Director

CONTACT: 414.336.8575

Yesterday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a thoughtful and timely opinion piece written by the vice-chancellor of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Father James Connell. The column, entitled “A way for bishops to begin rebuilding trust”, brings attention to the so-called yearly “audit” process undertaken each year by every Catholic diocese in the United States to ensure compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Young People, established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 in response to the ongoing revelations of childhood sex crimes by clergy.

Connell should know what he is talking about. He is not only the current vice chancellor of the archdiocese, but also a canon lawyer with two advanced degrees who has directly examined cases of sex abuse in the archdiocese. Additionally, Connell has a background in business management, having been a partner in an accounting firm before joining the priesthood, and he is a member of the archdiocesan review board for sexual abuse reports.

In his piece, Connell carefully highlighted areas in the sex abuse audit process that were flawed and could easily and quickly be improved. One suggestion Connell made was providing victim/survivors a greater role in the audit process, listening to the concerns of community members, and conducting an audit of the Essential Norms (or church “laws”) as well as of the Charter itself. Connell acknowledged that while the Charter is a “profound, important, and morally binding document,” it does not “stand as church law” as the Essential Norms do, so much of what people might think is being covered or enforced by the yearly audit is not.

Connell’s concerns about the audit process and the Charter not being church law are obviously well founded. The archdiocese of Philadelphia “passed” their audit every year since 2002. Yet, in February a Philadelphia grand jury found that 37 priests remained in ministry who had credible reports of sexual abuse made against them and today the priest who was in charge of the archdiocese sex abuse investigations is under indictment and scheduled for trial. The diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph “passed” their audit in 2010. But less than two weeks ago the diocese and its bishop Robert Finn were both indicted by a grand jury for failure to report child abuse.

Finally, one would think that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, currently in court for the largest bankruptcy filing by any religious corporation in US history, might want to seriously consider what its own vice chancellor has to say about making some necessary improvements and beginning a constructive public dialogue.

That is why it is mystifying, that instead of seriously responding and engaging Connell and the clergy he likely represents, the archdiocese quickly, in a rare public statement criticizing one of its most senior priests, shot back today with a dismissive and condescending release posted on their website. Which begs the question: if archbishop Listecki will not even consider help and direction from priests like Connell, where is he finding the guidance and council he so desperately needs and Catholics of the archdiocese deserve? It’s one thing to continually dismiss victim/survivors, especially those, like SNAP, who have largely been ignored by church officials and find themselves too often having to press for change exclusively through criminal and civil courts. But to dismiss out of hand the leadership of local priests and experts like Connell is a serious miscalculation by Listecki.

Connell’s views on the need for improvement in handling the sex abuse crisis is shared by the vast majority of Catholics. In yet another major opinion survey published this week, most American Catholics continue—nearly ten years after the Dallas Charter—to give bishops poor grades on handling clergy sex crimes. And it is not just in the public square that Catholics say the church has suffered serious damage because of this now chronic failure. While over 80 percent of respondents believe the bishops public credibility has been affected, a nearly equal percent say it is directly hurting their priest’s capacity to meet their spiritual and pastoral needs. If you are a man who has dedicated his life to being a Roman Catholic priest and who cares about the most fundamental mission and work of pastoring, this statistic must be alarming.

In a letter to Catholics this September, Archbishop Jerome Listecki conveyed his belief that filing for bankruptcy protection was the right thing to do. Listecki reminded Catholics that the days ahead will be challenging, and that the media will attempt to “sensationalize complex stories into out of context sound bites”. He implores the faithful to “remember some important facts”, that among other things, the “archdiocese of Milwaukee has been and continues to be forthcoming with information about clergy sexual abuse and perpetrators”.

How the later statement by Listecki could possibly be true when the federal bankruptcy judge has ordered the archdiocese to turn over to attorneys of victim/survivors tens of thousands of never released documents related to dozens of clergy who have assaulted children or minors in the archdiocese is anybody’s guess. But surely the recommendations made by Father Connell this week to improve the audit process of the Charter for the Protection of Young People is not a “complex story”. Instead it is a well articulated plan to strengthen the charter, protect children, and hold the guilty to some account.

SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is


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