Update: The Archdiocese of Milwaukee Responds to Awake’s Priority Questions

By Sara Larson
Awake Leadership Team

As part of our ongoing effort to understand the abuse crisis at the local level, Awake submitted a list of questions to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in December 2019. (This previous blog post includes our complete list of questions and details about how we developed them.) While Archdiocesan Chief of Staff Jerry Topczewski replied that he would not be able to answer the complete list of questions at that time, he did agree to provide responses to a smaller list of “priority questions” that the Awake Leadership Team found most important. 

On January 14, 2020, after much deliberation, Awake submitted questions on nine priority topics that we considered most pressing. You can view that list here. Mr. Topczewski, the Archbishop’s point person on these topics, sent us written responses to these questions on January 28.

We are still seeking clarification on a few answers and will share those responses in a future blog post. For now, we wanted to share the answers we received on six topics. The information below is the complete, unedited response we received from the Archdiocese to these particular questions.

Awake is committed to pursuing answers to all of our original questions, as well as any others that might arise. We believe that having a clear understanding of current policies and procedures is essential to informed advocacy. We will keep you posted on our progress. 

In the meantime, we invite you to weigh in on which questions are most important to 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? You can also contact us at awakemke@gmail.com if you have other questions or comments to share, or if you would like to connect with our Advocacy Working Group.

Awake’s Questions, With Answers from the Archdiocese

Question from Awake Milwaukee: 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? Will these names be added to the Archdiocesan website?

Answer from Jerry Topczewski, Archdiocese of Milwaukee: The Archdiocese of Milwaukee requires that the diocesan bishop or major superior of every diocesan or religious order cleric serving in the Archdiocese complete the Tri-Conference document attesting to fitness for ministry. These are to be kept on file in the Chancery office. Religious Orders are not required to supply the names of any member of their order with a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor and who at one time may have served in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to be provided to the Archdiocese. However, the Archdiocese does ask Religious Orders to supply the names of any members of its Order with a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor to the Chancery Office, if that member is currently living in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. 

The Archdiocese has no plans to post the names of members of Religious Orders with a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor to its website. Members of Religious Orders are not accountable to the Archbishop of Milwaukee, but rather to their Ordinary. The decision to post such names is up to the individual Religious Order.

Q. 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 the names of any abusive deacons be listed on the Archdiocesan website along with those of priests?

A. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has not conducted a complete investigation of files of Permanent Deacons. However, if there was a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against a Permanent Deacon, their name would be added to the archdiocesan website, provided such a posting would not cause harm to or reveal the identity of the abuse survivor.

Q. 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? 

A. The Therapy Fund, established July 1, 2016, at the conclusion of the Archdiocese’s Chapter 11 proceeding was depleted during the fiscal year 2018-2019. The Archdiocese continues to pay therapy fees for abuse survivors, just as it did prior to the creation of the fund, and has no intent of stopping this outreach to abuse survivors and their families.

Q. 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?

A. The Archdiocese funds therapy for family members of abuse survivors according to its therapy protocols. Archbishop Listecki has and continues to meet with abuse survivors and their families whenever requested.

Q. Will survivors of clergy abuse be part of the process of choosing the new Victim Assistance Coordinator for the Archdiocese?

A. No. Since every abuse survivor’s experience is different, it would be difficult to have one abuse survivor represent the interests of all survivors in making such a selection. Any individual qualified to serve as Victim Assistance Coordinator is going to have the necessary experience in working with abuse survivors.

Q. 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, parish, or Catholic organization is interested in helping our Archbishop address this issue in our Church, what is the process to get involved and what work could they engage in?

A. In his article, Archbishop Listecki talks about not leaving the Church but staying and leading within the Church. There are many ways for lay men and women to lead within the Church including, first and foremost, making the commitment to attend Mass regularly; practicing an active prayer life; volunteering at your parish; living an active Catholic lifestyle; being a Christian witness for family, friends and neighbors. 

In particular, with regard to clergy abuse of minors, individuals can pray for abuse survivors; support the good and holy priests of the archdiocese; make sure your parish is adhering to the requirements of the Safe Environment program and the Code of Ethical Standards; volunteer to assist the parish’s Safe Environment Coordinator; participate or lead small prayer groups or dialog groups on this topic; become a Wounded Body of Christ facilitator. I’m sure there are more ways and talking to your pastor would be a good starting point.

Sara Larson studied theology at Marquette University, worked in parish ministry for eight years, and is a member of Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Milwaukee. She chairs Awake’s Advocacy Working Group.

5 thoughts on “Update: The Archdiocese of Milwaukee Responds to Awake’s Priority Questions

  1. I find it interesting that there would be no victim/survivors on the interview panel for a new VAC. You might suggest that the new VAC be a survivor themselves. That makes the most sense.

    Also, all of you at Awake Milwaukee have proved that there is much more the laity can do than pray and attend Mass for victim/survivors. I don’t want to take away from this, which is wonderful in itself. Victim/survivors need so much more from us. You all are making a huge difference in this endeavor. Keep up the good work. Blessings on your most important work. You are an inspiration to all of us!

    1. Thank you for your support, Paula. We are so inspired by all of the wonderful work you are doing on restorative justice and abuse prevention in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. We’re grateful to be connected.

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