Awake Questions Update: The Archdiocese Explains the Community Advisory Board

By Sara Larson
Awake Leadership Team

In our effort to better understand how local Church leaders are responding to the issue of sexual abuse in our Church, Awake continues to seek answers to questions we submitted to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in December 2019. We have now received replies to 20 of our 35 question topics, and we intend to pursue answers to the remaining 15 topics in the coming months.

In this post, we will focus on questions related to the Community Advisory Board. (For responses to other questions, please see these previous posts: Update: The Archdiocese of Milwaukee Responds to Awake’s Priority Questions, Part 1 and Part 2, as well as Update: The Archdiocese Answers Awake’s Safe Environment Questions.) These responses were provided in writing by Suzanne Nickolai, Safe Environment program manager for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. 

We are particularly interested in the purpose, composition, goals, and transparency of the Community Advisory Board, because this is the body of (primarily) lay people that, according to the Archdiocesan website, “reviews and improves the response of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to those who have experienced or been affected by sexual abuse by Church personnel.” Archbishop Listecki has often referred to the Community Advisory Board when outlining his commitment to engaging the laity in responding to the abuse crisis. 

While there is little information about the Community Advisory Board on the Archdiocesan website, the website does include a current list of members here. Maryann Clesceri, Mary Howard Johnstone, OP,  Diane Knight, Anthony Meyer, MD, Sharon Thyne, and Kathy Lyn Walter are continuing their service from past years, while Teri Balash, Peter Burds, Betty Salazar, Robert Schiltz, and Fr. Luke Strand have been added to the board in the second half of 2019. Maryann Clesceri, manager of healing counseling for Aurora Healing and Advocacy Services at the Aurora Healing Center on Bruce Street, serves as the chair of the board.

Question from Awake Milwaukee: What is the defined purpose of the Community Advisory Board? 

Answer from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee: The purpose of the Community Advisory Board has been to bring together a group of individuals that have diverse knowledge and professional experience in relevant areas pertaining to abuse, in order to provide input and feedback to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on its policies, procedures, response and assistance to survivors of clergy sexual abuse to prevent, protect and respond to abuse. The members of the CAB are also asked to help share in the larger communities and professions that we serve to raise awareness of abuse prevention measures in the Church and beyond into our communities. The CAB serves as an instrument of education and vigilance and a force to see that the Archdiocese does not relax in its response.

Since the Community Advisory Board has been in the process of having new members over the past 6 months, we are reviewing the defined purpose of the board for any updates and changes. 

How often does this board meet? Who attends these meetings, beyond the board members themselves? 

The Board meets quarterly and the meetings are attended by the board members, the Archbishop, Vicar for Clergy, Chancellor, Safe Environment Program Manager, and Victim Assistance Coordinator.

How and by whom are members selected? 

They are selected based on professional expertise and/or valuable experiences and points of view that provide them with a valuable perspective not only to provide feedback and professional input but also to give voice to certain perspectives. We purposefully look for individuals that are willing to provide objective and honest feedback to the Archbishop and other members of the board. They are selected by recommendation and review by other members of the board, archdiocesan employees, and other professionals. Members are officially appointed by the Archbishop. 

The current board contains individuals with decades of experience as the following: social workers, former guardian ad litem and child advocate, psychologist, director of sexual assault survivor services organization, lay minister with pastoral counseling background, individual from the seminary, former probation officer who specialized in sex offenders, law enforcement with experience in sensitive crimes, young adult, former National Review Board member, attorney, and a psychotherapist. 

We do not publicly identify any member of the board as a survivor or family member of a survivor of abuse or clergy abuse unless the individual chooses to be identified as a survivor or family member of a survivor. We feel very strongly this is a valuable voice to bring to the CAB. 

What are the goals or projects they are currently working on? 

Policy reviews, trainings, current events, articles, discussions as the board requests or sees need for discussion.

Is the Archdiocese open to creating more transparency about the work of this board by sharing meeting agendas and minutes? 

We are open to posting the dates of the meetings, and would be willing to certainly consider any agenda items recommended. A proposed agenda is sent to the board members for them to submit any topics they wish to discuss or review. Subcommittees are formed when deemed necessary by the board. This is an advisory board. 

Comment from Awake: We appreciate the clarification about the purpose and composition of the Community Advisory Board. We would still like more information about the current goals and projects that are being pursued by the board. We also hope the board will move toward greater transparency by sharing meeting agendas or summaries with the people of the Archdiocese. We are encouraged by the example of the Child Protection Advisory Board in the Archdiocese of Washington; its web page includes a clear description of purpose, biographies of each member, and extensive annual reports outlining changes and progress. There are also dioceses where bodies of lay people have taken an expanded, proactive role. We appreciate the work of the Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis; it conducted a thorough review of policies, procedures, and processes and offered concrete recommendations for improvement. 

Milwaukee Catholics, We Still Want to Hear From You
As we continue to pursue responses to our complete list of questions, we would appreciate your feedback about which topics are most important to you. If you have not already done so, please take a few minutes to select 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.

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.

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