Update: The Archdiocese Responds to Awake’s Remaining Questions

By Sara Larson
Awake Leadership Team

To understand how our local leaders are responding to the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, Awake submitted questions on 35 topics to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. We first sent the questions in December 2019, and seven months later, we have now received answers to all of these questions.

This post includes answers to the questions that remained unanswered until June 2020. These answers were provided to the Awake Advocacy Working Group by Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Archbishop Jerome Listecki, through a series of emails in June and July, as well as a Zoom meeting on July 6, 2020.

For responses to our other questions, see these previous posts: 

Please watch for an updated section on Awake’s website that collects all of these questions and answers in one place soon.

Question from Awake Milwaukee: What is the monitoring system for priests who are restricted from ministry because of credible allegations of sexual abuse?

Most priests who were removed from ministry for substantiated reports of sexual abuse of minors are either dead or laicized. We cannot monitor a laicized priest because we no longer have any authority over him. For the very few who are still alive and not laicized, there is no legal way to monitor them and to portray that we are could give a false sense of safety. Their names and pictures are on public display on the website so the community knows about them. We have had no adverse reports. 

What ongoing financial support do these restricted priests receive from the Archdiocese? What is the source of those funds?

There is no financial support provided from the Archdiocese. For those who are eligible, they receive a monthly amount from their pension fund. This is a qualified pension plan and the Archdiocese does not control it. 

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?

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee provided an extended answer to this question, which can be found here. We have highlighted two key sections below:

When we are considering an international priest to serve here we do not just respond to any priest that makes himself available for ministry. We only consider priests that are recommended by another priest currently serving here or by a religious order superior or diocesan bishop with whom we have a previous relationship. We then ask for background information on the priest and arrange for an in person visit if they are able to visit or if not arrange for a Skype interview. If the priest has already worked for a time in another diocese in the United States, we will check with the Vicar for Clergy from that diocese to get a report on how the priest served for them. If that is all still promising we then communicate with the person’s bishop or religious superior.

Priest candidates that are accepted in the seminary program complete a number of psychological tests and speak with a psychologist. We do not do this for priests coming into the diocese to serve, instead relying on the observed behavior of them by their bishops, religious superiors, and colleagues that know them best. 

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?

Even before Vos estis lux mundi was issued, the Archdiocese had begun working on a protocol to ensure bishop accountability. That work extended to include all of the dioceses of the state. The protocol will include reporting capability through an outside third party contact. The full protocol and a flow chart have recently been completed and the reporting mechanism is being set up.

As soon as the reporting mechanism is linked to the diocesan websites, a public announcement will be made with directions on how to report and how reports will be handled.  The reporting portal will be on the front page of www.archmil.org in a manner similar to the Ethics Point portal for reporting possible financial misconduct.

Has the Archdiocese considered implementing additional options for reporting abuse, such as an email address or an online form?

A new Victim Assistance Coordinator [started] on July 1. This suggestion will be passed on to her. There is already a place for an on-line report on the archdiocesan website.

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?

Allegations are first turned over to civil authorities. If their investigation involves concerns about electronic devices the accused is encouraged to cooperate. If civil authorities turn the investigation back to the Archdiocese the case is handed over to a professional, independent investigator and the accused is encouraged to offer full cooperation including access to electronic devices if the investigation goes in that direction. 

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?

Survivors are free to choose their own therapist but the person must be qualified. The therapist’s credentials and licensing are reviewed by an outside expert. Anyone seeking payment for therapy must have their therapist submit a treatment plan to this same outside expert.

Does the Archdiocese require any type of report from therapists to whom the Archdiocese has provided payment?

The Archdiocese neither asks for nor receives reports about the content of the therapy. Updated treatment plans are required at the direction of the outside expert.

What ongoing support does the Archdiocese currently offer to survivors of clergy sexual abuse? 

The Archdiocese continues to fund therapy for clergy abuse survivors and offers the annual Mass of Atonement as an opportunity for prayer.

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?

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee does not have a position on this bill at this time. In the past, the Archdiocese has supported statute of limitations reform but opposed any revival or “look-back” window for past claims.

Does the Archdiocese support an Attorney General investigation into clergy sexual abuse and the handling of that abuse in the state of Wisconsin?

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee would be opposed to an Attorney General investigation in the state of Wisconsin, because it is not clear what such an investigation would accomplish, as well as because of the expense that would have to be incurred by each Arch/Diocese.

What changes have been made to vetting processes and formation programs for seminarians in response to the issue of clergy sexual abuse?

Many changes have been made in the vetting processes and formation programs for seminarians. Information about these changes can be found on the archdiocesan website at www.archmil.org/clergy-abuse-response/seminarian-formation.htm

What are the continuing education requirements for clergy related to this issue?

All clergy are required to participate in Safe Environment training. There are no continuing education requirements for clergy specifically related to sexual abuse. 

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?

As of 7/14/20, Mr. Topczewski was checking into this information with relevant parties.

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?

The Archdiocese recommends the resource “The Wounded Body of Christ” for parishes to facilitate small-group conversation about this topic. Training was offered in May 2019 for those wishing to facilitate a group, and video of this training is available on the archdiocesan website here. The auxiliary bishops and other archdiocesan staff have also made themselves available to participate in parish-based listening sessions.

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

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