Awake’s Response

Awake Milwaukee was invited to stand along side abuse survivors and fellow advocates at the press conference announcing the new Wisconsin Attorney General investigation into sexual abuse by clergy and faith leaders. Executive Director Sara Larson offered the following remarks:

Good morning, my name is Sara Larson. I am a committed Catholic and the executive director of Awake Milwaukee, an independent grassroots nonprofit organization of Catholics whose mission is to awaken our community to the full reality of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and to work for transformation and healing.

I am here today to speak for Awake and for the many, many Catholics throughout the state of Wisconsin who are heartbroken and outraged about the crimes that have been committed in our Church, Catholics who welcome the Attorney General investigation and the opportunity we have to make our Church better. I am here today because I recognize that healing can only come when we face the whole truth of what has happened in the past – and what is happening today.

I would like to first address my fellow Catholics: While I know many of you are grateful for today’s announcement and hopeful for the greater transparency and accountability it may bring, I also recognize that others may be concerned or even angry at the prospect of this inquiry. It is true that the process and results of this investigation are likely to be painful for anyone who loves the Church. I understand the temptation to wish that this would all just go away so that we don’t have to think about these horrible stories any longer. 

But the reality is that abuse in our Church is not simply a problem of the past. Through Awake’s ministry, I have had the privilege of walking with many women and men who have been abused by Catholic leaders, during childhood or as adults. Their trauma is real and life-altering, whether the abuse happened fifty years ago or just last year. Many of these survivors are still seeking accountability and justice – for those who abused them and for those who enabled that abuse. Others have never reported their abuse, because they have never felt safe enough to do so. There is so much that has not yet been revealed. 

The truth is that the only way forward for our Church is through transparency, accountability, and justice. We cannot even begin to heal until we face the full truth of the crimes that have been committed in our Church. Our Catholic faith calls us to stand up in the face of injustice and act in solidarity with those who are suffering, so I ask my fellow Catholics to join me in welcoming this investigation and in facing whatever might be revealed, with both courage and compassion.

To the Attorney General, district attorneys, members of the press, survivors and their advocates, I say: Thank you. Thank you for working to hold our Church accountable when we Catholics did not do so ourselves. Thank you for revealing painful truths and challenging our Church to be better. Thank you for your persistence in pursuing accountability and justice.

Finally, to all survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church: I am so sorry. You deserve much more than apologies, but I stand here today, on behalf of Awake Milwaukee and many Catholics throughout Wisconsin, to offer a heartfelt apology to every person who has been harmed.

We are deeply sorry for the abuse you experienced in our Church and for the lifelong aftermath of that abuse. We are sorry for all the ways that we have failed you and your loved ones, by our actions and by our silence. We are sorry for the times your abuse was ignored, minimized, and covered up by church leaders. We recognize that many of you have been speaking out for decades, and we apologize for all the times that we didn’t listen, doubted you, or lacked the courage to act. We offer no justifications or excuses, only our sincere regret for the ways that you have been harmed.

We know that we can’t take away the past, but as members of the Catholic Church, we are committed to standing with you now. We hope that this investigation brings you some measure of justice and peace.