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Vice Chancellor of Milwaukee Archdiocese Endorses Child Victims Act; SNAP Responds

November 23, 2011

November 23, 2011


Statement by Peter Isely of Milwaukee, SNAP Midwest Director, 414.429.7259

At the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison yesterday, Fr. James Connell, the Vice Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee made quiet history when he joined Senator Julie Lassa (24th Senate District, Stevens Point) and Representative Sandy Pasch (22nd Assembly District-Whitefish Bay), in urging the passage of the Wisconsin Child Victims Act.

With Connell were victim/survivors of child sexual violence by clergy and other trusted adults, long time child protection advocates and organizations, and law enforcement. Every speaker echoed the now long established conclusion, based on criminological research and population studies, that most child victims do not report the crimes committed against them and if they do, it often takes years, if not decades.

The newly introduced reform measure would lift the civil statute of limitations on child sex abuse and open a two year “grandfather clause” for those already victimized to bring their cases to court. The bill does not target any church, organization or school. There are no exemptions or special clauses in it. It simply allows anyone who was raped or sexually assaulted as a child to bring the offender, or those proven to have covered up the criminal activity of the offender, to civil justice.
Victim/survivors of sexual abuse and a high ranking Catholic official standing shoulder to shoulder in support of the Child Victims Act, fought by Catholic bishops in several states, is an unusual enough scene. Of course, a bishop knows that when victims get their cases heard in court, just like we are now seeing in the a Penn State scandal, the cover up of these crimes can reach into the highest rungs of his organization.

But that is not what made Connell’s words so noteworthy. It was, rather, that Connell clearly and powerfully articulated how all Catholics can get behind legal reform of the child sex abuse statutes because Catholic law (“canon law”) itself fully supports and uses the basic legal principles upon which the Child Victims Act is constructed.

It’s just that church officials are not applying these principles to their own acts of injustice.

And the Child Victims Act, as Connell eloquently argued, is about justice: “Justice in the Catholic Church is a cardinal virtue. And Church leaders may not turn away from justice.”
Connell should know what he is talking about. He is himself a canon lawyer, and a member of the archdiocesan review board charged with examining current sexual abuse reports against priests. “We have” he said, “within our own [Catholic legal] system statutes of limitations, and the catholic church has itself in recent years changed the laws of statutes of limitations”.

Connell pointed out how the Vatican has extended legal time limits on child sex crimes by priests and, even more significantly, opened up their statutes to address past cases, even if the time limits of the current statute had expired. In other words, just what the Child Victims Act would do: extend or eliminate the legal time limits for victims to file child sex abuse cases and open up the current statute to address past cases.

Connell’s concerns are not simply as a church official, canon lawyer, and someone who has to rule on sex abuse cases in his own archdiocese. It is also because he has been a pastor of two Sheboygan, Wisconsin parishes over the past twelve years, and each parish has had a child sex predator once assigned there by the archdiocese: “The pain is deep with my parishioners, and as I have gotten to know them, know their stories, it has touched my heart deeply”.

In closing his remarks from the Senate Parlor, Connell spoke words that victims and their families have been long been waiting to hear from priests and church officials:
“I would encourage the bishops in the state of Wisconsin and the entire catholic community here in the state to follow the example of our own church law and to change the laws as necessary to actually serve the needs of justice, in this case, serving the needs of those who are victims of clergy sexual abuse. So, I do support this legislation and I ask the entire community, the catholic community, and our bishops to join in this support.”

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 Wisconsin website is 

  1. canne permalink

    too little too late for the “VICE” chancellor and every other catholic official and laity who spent the past decades in silence as victims committed suidice and families fought to change laws while both church and state shot down these bills..
    in typical catholic fashion you are making a “hero” out of the one catholic official who finally gets it.. while the millions of victims are once again forgotton or minimized.
    when will it ever be about the victims and not about the priests, the bishops the laity, the groups…

  2. Joan Pfitzer permalink

    Thank God!

    perhaps your fine example could be implemented in ALL the diocese in the US. It would go a long way to reestablishing Church credibility!

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