Awake Asks: How is the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Responding to the Abuse Crisis?

Since we began talking with people at community gatherings, listening sessions, and one-on-one meetings, Awake’s leadership team has heard many questions from Milwaukee-area Catholics about how our archdiocese is addressing the abuse crisis. And in learning more about these topics, Awake’s leadership team has developed questions too.

This led us to create a list of 35 questions on a range of topics—from support for survivors to formation for seminarians to requirements for religious order priests—that we couldn’t answer with a careful look at the archdiocesan website. On December 10, 2019 we emailed these questions to the archbishop’s chief of staff, Jerry Topczewski, the point person on these issues, asking if we could receive answers by February 1, 2020.

Topczewski responded just three hours later with a courteous note. He said the archdiocese didn’t have time to respond to so many questions by that date. He added that the archdiocese is currently developing its own Q&A on the topic of the abuse crisis to share with people in the pews in coming months.

We were disappointed, but acknowledged that it was a large number of questions, so we offered to winnow our list to the ten most pressing ones. Topczewski agreed to address a smaller list, saying he would “do my best to respond in a timely fashion” in the new year. He added: “The archdiocese does its best to respond as best it can to all questions related to clergy sexual abuse of minors. We know this is an important topic for many people and listening to questions is important.”

We’ll keep you posted on the answers.

In the meantime, we wanted you to see our original list of 35 questions for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. If you’re wondering why we’re asking these particular questions, stay tuned for future posts offering some background. And we invite you to join one of Awake’s upcoming Community Gatherings, where we’ll discuss why these questions matter. Reserve yourself a spot.

We’d also like to know: Which questions are most pressing for you? Please take a few minutes to pick your top 10 questions on our survey here: Questions for the Archdiocese – What Matters Most To You?.

—Erin O’Donnell

Questions for The Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Collected By Awake Milwaukee

Safe Environment Education and Compliance

  • What process is in place to collect feedback from those who have attended Safe Environment Education sessions?
  • What training is required for a person to be considered qualified to facilitate these Safe Environment Education sessions? Is there any ongoing supervision or formation of these facilitators?
  • Does the current Safe Environment Education curriculum include information about abuse of adults?
  • What provisions are made for survivors of abuse who wish to volunteer in the Catholic Church but might be triggered by the content of these Safe Environment sessions?
  • What is the status of the Archdiocese’s exploration of options for updating and improving this training?
  • What are the rules for background checks and Safe Environment training at Catholic institutions for which the Archdiocese is not directly responsible, e.g. Catholic universities, retreat centers, etc.?
  • What is the Archdiocesan process for ensuring that priests brought in from outside of the United States have no history of credible abuse allegations? What review and formation is done to ensure they have healthy psychosocial behavior? How are they acclimated to the legal and cultural norms of our country?
  • How is the Archdiocese implementing the requirements of Pope Francis’s ​motu proprio​ ​Vos Estis Lux Mundi​? How is this implementation being communicated to the public?

Community Advisory Board

  • What is the defined purpose of the ​Community Advisory Board​?
  • How often does this board meet? Who attends these meetings, beyond the board members themselves?
  • How and by whom are members selected?
  • What are the goals or projects they are currently working on?
  • Is the Archdiocese open to creating more transparency about the work of this board by sharing meeting agendas and minutes?

Reporting and Investigative Process

  • What are the processes in place to receive and respond to complaints about grooming behavior that has not escalated to the level of abuse?
  • Has the Archdiocese considered implementing additional options for reporting abuse, such as an email address or an online form?
  • When the Archdiocese receives allegations of abuse, does the Archdiocese have experts investigate all electronic devices accessible to the alleged abuser for improper uses? Does the Archdiocese provide full access to all electronic devices to civil authorities for their investigations?

Abuse of Adults

  • What is the Archdiocese’s system for people to report sexual harassment, abuse, or misconduct with adults? Are those who are victimized as adults entitled to the same investigative process and pastoral care as those who were abused as children?
  • What are the Archdiocesan policies about what behavior by a cleric toward an adult would be considered sexually abusive? Does Archdiocesan policy consider any sexual relationship between a cleric and a parishioner or someone seeking spiritual advice abusive? How are these policies communicated to clerics, church employees, volunteers, and other parishioners?

Credibly Accused Clergy

  • What are the requirements for religious orders to be permitted to operate in the Archdiocese? Do these requirements include the submission of a list of members who served in the Archdiocese and have been found credibly accused by their religious order? Could these names be added to the Archdiocesan website?
  • Has the Archdiocese of Milwaukee ever conducted a thorough investigation of the files of all deacons for allegations of abuse of minors or adults? Would names of abusive deacons be listed on the Archdiocesan website along with those of priests?
  • What is the monitoring system for priests who are restricted from ministry because of credible allegations of sexual abuse?
  • What ongoing financial support do these restricted priests receive from the Archdiocese? What is the source of those funds?

Support for Survivors

  • What ongoing support does the Archdiocese currently offer to survivors of clergy sexual abuse?
  • What is the status of the ​$500,000 therapy fund​ created for abuse survivors as part of the bankruptcy settlement? Have those funds been spent?
  • Does the Archdiocese require that therapy funded by the Archdiocese take place with particular approved therapists, or are survivors free to obtain their own therapist and follow their therapist’s recommendations for an appropriate treatment plan?
  • Does the Archdiocese require any type of report from therapists to whom the Archdiocese has provided payment?

Legislative Policy

  • Does the Archdiocese support Wisconsin Senate Bill 381, which would eliminate the civil statute of limitations in the state of Wisconsin and open a 3-year revival window for claims against perpetrators, government, and private organizations, including Catholic dioceses? Has the Wisconsin Catholic Conference been involved in any lobbying for or against this bill?
  • Does the Archdiocese support an Attorney General investigation into clergy sexual abuse and the handling of that abuse in the state of Wisconsin?

Healing Our Church

  • What support does the Archdiocese offer to family members who have been harmed by the abuse of their loved ones? Is Archbishop Listecki open to meeting with not only clergy abuse survivors but also their family members?
  • What changes have been made to vetting processes and formation programs for seminarians in response to the issue of clergy sexual abuse?
  • What are the continuing education requirements for clergy related to this issue?
  • What formation are clergy, seminarians, and lay ministers given for understanding the long-term effects of trauma and best practices for trauma-informed pastoral care?
  • Will survivors of clergy abuse be part of the process of choosing the new ​Victim Assistance Coordinator​ for the Archdiocese?
  • What support does the Archdiocese offer to parishes, schools, or other Catholic organizations that want to address the abuse crisis but are not sure how to proceed?
  • In September 2018, Archbishop Listecki called for Catholics who are concerned about this issue to stay and “lead within the Church.” What are some clear avenues for responding to this invitation to shared leadership? If a person is interested in helping our Archbishop address this issue in our Church, who should they contact at the Archdiocese to become involved in this work?

9 thoughts on “Awake Asks: How is the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Responding to the Abuse Crisis?

  1. If you are reading this please weigh in on which questions are of most importance to you. Awake wants to listen to and learn from people in the pews.

  2. No questions about the process when a priest is accused,? who does the investigation for the diocese? who is on the Review Board and what are their qualifications? What clarity does the Review board have about their role? How are they trained and how often is their training updated? What is the standard used to define an allegation that is likely true? What information is given to accused priests? How are the parishes supported after their priest is removed? How is the accused priest supported and informed during the investigative phase? How is the accuser supported and informed throughout the process? Do all the participants realize that their advice and recommendations are advisory only? Has this AB heeded the advice and recommendations given by his review board?

    1. Jan, thank you so much for your list of questions! We chose not to include questions about the Diocesan Review Board and those processes on this first round of questions, but you are right, these are very important issues to ask about! We hope you will join our Advocacy Working Group and help us engage with these questions in the future.

  3. I am impressed with the breadth and depth of your questions. They address so many important aspects of this crisis. Thank you for what you are doing.

  4. (1) There likely is an employee Code of Conduct or Ethics Policy which includes policy verbiage about sexual harassment, bullying, inappropriate communications, etc. The one for my Archdiocese states it is applicable to clergy, staff, AND volunteers. If so, what is the process for internally investigating non-criminal misconduct such as violations of applicable Code of Conduct policies that would likely proactively catch some of the grooming behaviors PRIOR to it escalating to abuse? (You referenced this one already, but I think it’s so significant, so highlighting it again 🙂 (2) Experts have advised, both to the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention, that an effective way to mitigate the systemic abuse within each institution is to have a neutral, 3rd party function/committee/department that is professionally trained and staffed that handles allegations of abuse. Given this expert advice and that per the USCCB policy “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord” that the Church strives to follow best practices of a workplace, why has the Archdiocese chosen not to follow this expert advice as well as best practice for ethical organizations? (3) What regular auditing is done to ensure all clergy, staff, and volunteers are in compliance with the Safe Environment program, who is in charge of that auditing, and what is the current status of compliance with the program for each parish within the Archdiocese? (4) What auditing is done to ensure that all Archdiocese policies are being communicated to its parishioners? (5) Who monitors and provides ongoing supervision and feedback to the clergy and staff (including the bishop) regarding their compliance with Safe Environment policies and practices? (6) Do bishops and priests have more pastoral power than the adult laity, and if so, is anyone educated that sexual misconduct between clergy and laity adults is not consensual (given imbalance of power) and therefore not to call it an “affair”? (7) What other competing priorities prevented receiving a response to the original 35 questions within almost a 2 month time frame, so that victims can be assured that the lack of sense of urgency was due to very high priority items within the Archdiocese.

    1. Thank you for all of these additional questions, Beth Ann! We appreciate your knowledge and attention to detail and will make sure our Advocacy Working Group looks at these questions in the future.

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