Announcing the New Mission Statement of Awake Milwaukee

By the Awake Leadership Team

Awake began simply, as a small group of concerned Catholics gathering for conversation in March 2019. Since then, the Awake Leadership Team has been constantly discerning who we want to be as a community, including our mission and the approach we take to this work. We have spent a lot of time listening and learning in the last year, and we have expanded our circle so that the “we” of Awake now includes many volunteers, survivors, experts, and fellow Catholics ready to get involved.

Today, we are excited to announce the newly developed mission statement for Awake Milwaukee. (Drum roll, please…)

Our mission is to awaken our community to the full reality of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and work for transformation and healing throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

A lot of thought went into each word of this mission statement, but we resisted the temptation to make it longer with more clarifying details. However, we do want to make sure you know these things:

  • For us, the “full reality of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church” includes the abuse of children as well as abuse of adults, who are often overlooked in these conversations.
  • We chose this wording, rather than the term “clerical abuse,” to acknowledge those who have experienced abuse by religious brothers and sisters, as well as lay staff members, teachers, volunteers, and others serving in leadership roles in the Church. 
  • We understand that this “full reality” encompasses not only the abuse itself, but also past and present leadership failures in adequately addressing this abuse.
  • Finally, we recognize the ripple effects of sexual abuse, which can impact and even traumatize friends and family members of those abused, the whole community where abuse took place, and ultimately, the entire Catholic Church.

Awake’s mission statement is the WHAT and FOR WHOM of our work, but we also want you to know about the HOW—the unique approach we are taking in pursuit of this mission. There are three key principles underlying all of the work we do.

The Core Commitments of Awake Milwaukee

Commitment to Co-responsibility

We believe that we, the baptized, are ALL integral members of the Body of Christ. This means that any suffering in that Body affects all of us, and we’re all responsible for responding and working for healing. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have used the phrase “co-responsible” to emphasize that every Catholic, whether lay or ordained, has a responsibility for the mission of the Church. 

This is good news, but it’s also a challenge. Co-responsibility means that we can’t be passively waiting for others to act. If we want to see transformation and healing, we need to work for that change. In an interview with the Catholic Herald in 2018, Archbishop Jerome Listecki was asked what he would say to people who are struggling with the ongoing revelations about abuse in the Church. In response, he called us to stay and “lead within the Church,” and that is what we are doing.

We may not have structures or buildings or money, but we do have a responsibility to act. So, instead of getting stuck thinking about what we can’t do, we are thinking creatively about what we can do. That’s co-responsibility in action.

Commitment to Complexity

In the face of big problems and high emotions, it’s tempting to seek easy answers and quick solutions, to look for someone or something to blame, to divide into groups and shout about how the problem is someone else’s fault. But with Awake, we are choosing a different way. We resist simple explanations and sound-bite solutions. Instead, we choose to seek truth, listen to many perspectives, and wade into the complexity of this issue. 

This commitment to complexity means that we do not silo ourselves into addressing only one aspect of this problem. While individuals may choose to focus on one particular piece of our work, we want Awake as a whole to see the big picture. So, we focus on both prayer and advocacy, education and walking with survivors. We know that we don’t have all the answers, but we believe these are all key components of a response.

Commitment to Hope

Sometimes, in the face of such a big, ugly problem, it feels easier to throw up our hands and walk away. But we share a conviction that God is at work in our midst during this difficult time. We believe the Holy Spirit is moving, and each person engaged with Awake is here because of that Spirit.

One beautiful thing about the word “crisis” is that, beyond the negative connotation, it can also imply a turning point or a moment of decision. We believe that the abuse crisis is not just a problem but also a call to action. This is a new moment in the life of the Church. One abuse survivor who met with our team said that last year was the first time, in almost 30 years of suffering and advocacy, that she has been in a room of Catholics and felt that they were with her, not against her.

So, in this critical moment, we are making a commitment to choose hope—to do what we can and trust that God will work through those small efforts. This hope is not a Pollyanna optimism or the illusion that everything is just fine, but a deep conviction that we have a God who can move us from darkness to light, from death to life. We simply have to listen for his Spirit and say Yes to being part of that resurrection.

Real transformation in the way the Catholic Church addresses sexual abuse is going to take a long time. We believe that our Church needs Catholics who are willing to work on this issue over the long term and keep the ball moving forward, even when the scandal is not in the headlines. We believe that hope is essential to making that sustained effort possible.

We hope you will join us. 

The Awake Leadership Team is Brenda Andrews, Elizabeth Brick, Jim Cauley, Lynn Charnitz, Mary Gentile, Patty Ingrilli, Sara Knutson, Mike Larson, Sara Larson, Erin O’Donnell, and Jerri von den Bosch. The photo above was taken during an April 2020 meeting.

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