Catholics Have Questions About Awake’s Next Step Recommendations. We Offer Answers.

Last month Awake Milwaukee unveiled a list of recommendations for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, intended to help our local Church better support victim-survivors of sexual abuse, increase transparency, and prevent future abuse. 

We call the recommendations “Next Steps” because we see them as building on the progress the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has already made to assist survivors and address abuse by church leaders. But we believe more can and should be done. We developed these recommendations carefully over the course of two years by listening deeply to survivors and researching widely accepted best practices already implemented in other dioceses.

Our recommendations focused on four areas: the archdiocesan list of restricted priests, abuse of adults by church leaders, boundary violations by church leaders, and transparency for two archdiocesan advisory boards. The complete list of recommendations that we shared with the archdiocese is available here.   

The list has sparked plenty of conversation and a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. We’ve received many questions about the document from survivors, Milwaukee Catholics, and the Awake community beyond this archdiocese. Today we take a moment to answer a few of the questions we’re hearing the most. 

Q. What has the Archdiocese said about Awake’s recommendations?

A. Two weeks before we shared our recommendations on the Awake Blog in a September 13 post, we sent the document to multiple staff members at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, asking if we could meet to discuss the recommendations. We sent several follow-up emails but have not yet received a response from the Archdiocese.

Archdiocesan staff did offer answers to questions posed by reporter Sophie Carson in her story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Communications director Sandra Peterson commented on some of Awake’s recommendations, and Carson quoted Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Archbishop Jerome Listecki, as saying: “We are always open to input from professionals regarding the Church’s considerable and ongoing efforts assisting those who were victims of clergy sexual abuse of minors, while also remaining vigilant in our abuse prevention and safe environment efforts.”

Q. Why did you choose these recommendations? 

A. Many people have reached out to Awake to ask about specific changes that they believe we should have included in our recommendations. They wonder why Awake chose just these four areas. To be clear, we started our process with a much longer list of possible changes, based on what we’ve learned from survivors across the country.  

We have already expressed our support for the Wisconsin Attorney General investigation into abuse by clergy and faith leaders, and we continue to call on church leaders to fully cooperate and provide requested documents to this investigation. We zeroed in on these four additional areas because they seemed to be reasonable next steps within reach of our Archdiocese, given that other U.S. dioceses have already adopted similar measures. For example, as we noted in our recommendations, of the 32 archdioceses in the United States, 22 include religious order or extern priests on their website lists of credibly accused priests.

Carson of the Journal Sentinel asked the Archdiocese about the possibility of adding order priests to the list of credibly accused priests on its website. They said they don’t include those names because they have no way of knowing the details of these abuse allegations or how they were investigated, Carson reported. “There is also no certainty that the Archdiocese would be informed of allegations against every priest who worked at some point in the Archdiocese,” the Archdiocese told Carson.

Just last week the Archdiocese of Chicago added order priests to its list of clergy members accused of sexual abuse. 

Steps like these may seem small, but abuse survivors, their loved ones, and advocates tell us that they make a big difference in supporting healing for people who have been abused. They describe how demoralizing and traumatizing it can be to check the diocesan list and fail to find their perpetrator’s name, suggesting that the abuse didn’t happen or somehow doesn’t matter.

Such actions are essential to changing the culture of the Church, ensuring that it is a welcoming community that ministers to the wounded with compassion and sensitivity. These recommendations are just the beginning. We hope to build on them and would like to partner with our Archdiocese in its efforts to minister to those harmed in the Church. 

Also, it’s important to note that these recommendations for the Archdiocese are just one piece of Awake’s ministries, which include listening to and supporting to survivors, offering resources to educate the Catholic community about the full reality of sexual abuse in the Church, and creating trauma-sensitive prayer opportunities for the Awake community of survivors and concerned Catholics. We are committed to continuing this work.  

Q. How did you develop these recommendations?

A. Since Awake was founded in 2019, members of Awake’s leadership team have formed deep relationships with victim-survivors, their loved ones, and advocates, many of whom have lived with the ugly realities of abuse for much longer than we have. We are humbled by all that these survivors have carried, usually without the support of fellow Catholics, and are grateful for the hard-won wisdom that they have been willing to share with us. 

We have also followed closely ongoing global news, research, and conversation related to sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Church. A team of Awake staff and volunteers spent hundreds of hours reading through news stories and materials created by other dioceses to understand, for example, how they maintain their lists of credibly accused priests, how they serve people abused as adults, and their guidelines related to boundary violations and grooming by church personnel. In short, these recommendations are the result of several years of careful work.   

Q. Why are you attacking the Church? 

A. We’re sad that some people in the Catholic community see these recommendations as an effort to harm the Church. We are committed Catholics who love the Church and hold hope that it can be better: more transparent, more compassionate and trauma sensitive, and less focused on self-protection. We believe that as members of the Body of Christ, we share responsibility for bringing about this change. We see this difficult work as a way to serve God and the Church. 

Q. I’m so disappointed by the Archdiocese. Is change even possible?

A. Some concerned Catholics have reached out to Awake’s leadership team to express frustration and discouragement given the Archdiocese’s lack of direct response to the Next Steps recommendations. We understand these feelings. We continue to wait in hope for a response from the Archdiocese, but we have plenty to do in the meantime. The important work of supporting survivors is open to all of us as Catholics: Making an effort to listen deeply to survivors and let them know that we believe them. Signing Awake’s Letter to Survivors. Praying with and for survivors. Learning what it means to be trauma sensitive and sharing this knowledge with others. Actions like these may feel small but are essential if we are to change the culture of the Catholic Church to make it safe for all. 

One thought on “Catholics Have Questions About Awake’s Next Step Recommendations. We Offer Answers.

  1. I cannot express how grateful I am that their are Catholics concerned about helping survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
    Thank you for all you are doing.

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