By the Awake Leadership Team
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee recently announced new protocols for handling allegations of misconduct by bishops, as well as allegations of misconduct against adults by clergy or lay leaders in the Church.
Archbishop Jerome Listecki sent an email to church leaders on February 19 describing the “Protocol for Making and Investigating Allegations of Misconduct by Bishops,” adopted by all dioceses in Wisconsin. It calls for anyone aware of illegal misconduct by a bishop to report it to local law enforcement and to use a third-party phone number or website to report allegations of illegal or unethical behavior. Each diocese has a designated lay person to serve as a contact person for any allegations; in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the contact is Barbara Anne Cusack, chancellor of the Archdiocese. If an allegation is against a current or immediate past bishop of the Archdiocese, reports are handled by the Bishop of Green Bay and his designated layperson.
According to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee website, the protocols were created to address behavior that includes:
1. forcing someone, by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts.
2. performing sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person.
3. the production, exhibition, possession or distribution, including by electronic means, of child pornography, as well as by the recruitment of or inducement of a minor or a vulnerable person to participate in pornographic exhibitions.
4. actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious regarding the misconduct referred to in 1-3 above.
Other New Protocols
The archbishop also announced a new process for addressing reports of suspected illegal or unethical behavior by clergy and church leaders, who are required to adhere to the archdiocese’s Code of Ethical Standards for Church Leaders. The new reporting process is detailed in a flow chart available on the archdiocesan website. Reports will be handled through Convercent, a third-party company.
In some cases, reports of unethical behavior by clergy or lay leaders will go to a new Fitness for Ministry Oversight Board for review. According to Archbishop Listecki’s announcement, the board members are “respected members of the community and also include an experienced pastor and parish director.”
Finally, Archbishop Listecki announced that seminarians who make reports of misconduct at St. Francis de Sales Seminary will now do so through Convercent. (In the past, any reports were made to the rector of the seminary.) The Seminary Board of Trustees will select a lay member of the board to serve as the contact for Convercent.
Why Are These Protocols Being Announced Now?
In his announcement, Archbishop Listecki noted that these protocols come in the aftermath of the Vatican’s McCarrick Report, which detailed sexual abuse of both minors and adults by the former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
These new Archdiocese of Milwaukee policies fulfill the requirements of Vos Estis Lux Mundi, an apostolic letter written by Pope Francis in May 2019, which created new Church norms around sexual abuse and required all dioceses around the world to establish reporting systems for bishops by June 1, 2020. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched the Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service (CBAR) in March 2020, but this information was not prominently available on the Archdiocese of Milwaukee site until now.
Archbishop Listecki’s announcement offered more about the purpose of these new protocols: “When there are indicators of unethical, but not illegal, actions by a Church leader, the Code [of Ethical Standards for Church Leaders] calls for reporting to Church authorities. In those instances, there has not always been a clear procedure for resolving such reports. To address this, we have adopted a new process for addressing reports of suspected illegal or unethical behavior.”
Awake Milwaukee’s Response to the New Archdiocesan Protocols
Awake welcomes these new protocols, which not only fulfill requirements set out by Pope Francis in Vos Estis, but also clarify reporting processes that have been unclear to ordinary Catholics. These are important steps in making the Church safe for all.
At the same time, we have questions about how these protocols will be implemented. For example, in cases of abuse, harassment, or other misconduct against adults, will the archdiocesan victim assistance coordinator have a role in receiving those reports and supporting people who make reports? Who sits on the Fitness for Ministry Oversight Board, and how and by whom have these individuals been chosen? And how are these new protocols being communicated to Catholics in the Archdiocese?
We asked these questions and more of the Archdiocese in an email sent last week. A staff member let us know that they currently are preparing answers to the questions. Stay tuned; we’ll share the responses as we receive them.