ARCHBISHOP JEROME E. LISTECKI
I am becoming more and more aware that what I write in the Herald of Hope is not just the communication of my insights or reflections on any given topic delivered to subscribers, but a recorded historical document that will take its place in the archives and be food for some inquisitive ecclesiastical history student or a future story by Fr. Steven Avella, our resident history professor, to give reason or understanding for a particular action at this moment in the history of the archdiocese.
Believe me, I do not take myself seriously, but I do know that what we are about is the fulfilment of the mission entrusted to us as a Church by our Lord Jesus Christ.
On Jan. 4, 2020, I will celebrate my 10th anniversary as the Archbishop of Milwaukee. In one sense, it seems like yesterday that I presented myself in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist and assumed my responsibilities as the new archbishop, following my predecessor and friend Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the current Archbishop of New York. Members of my staff thought that it would be most appropriate to reflect on my 10 years, possibly highlighting some of our accomplishments and perhaps to present the challenges that still confront us.
I knew at the time of my installation that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee faced the difficult clergy sexual abuse crisis and this caused distrust in the actions of the Church. Archbishop Dolan did his best to restore confidence and address outreach to victims. But the situation demanded a resolution in order to go forward as people of faith.
At my first anniversary of my installation, I announced that we would declare bankruptcy. I tried my best in mediation, but it was obvious that no resolution could be reached. What gave me the confidence to go forward was my trust in God, in the clergy and in the faithful who defined the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. I did not have a clear vision of what might happen and certainly no defined plan. But I did come to experience in my first year of leadership the rich spiritual tradition in the archdiocese, and it was this depth of spirituality that fostered in me the courage to stay the course. Little did anyone think that it would take five and half years in what the Wall Street Journal characterized as the most contentious bankruptcy in the continental United States.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has maintained vigilance in the area of child protection. This continues to be a challenge not only for the archdiocese but for the Church as a whole, and we have instituted programs that our secular counterparts have yet to incorporate. We are a Church, a community of believers, therefore protection of children must always be before us.
As we moved through the bankruptcy, I knew as a spiritual leader we must concentrate on our faith. We received a mandate from Our Lord, to preach, teach and baptize. A few of my staff thought that I was losing my mind when I announced at a meeting that I wanted to call a synod. My hope was that a synod would help us to dream and envision priorities that would strengthen the Church. However, I also knew we needed a focal point for envisioning our future and that led to the creation of the Pastoral Letter “Who Do You Say I Am.” This was a reflection on the nature of the Church. “It will be the Church who from age to age will protect that confession made by St. Peter. There will be no authentic freelance Christianity. Without his Church, there is no Christ.”
The Synod (Pentecost 2014) was the most significant event that we as an archdiocese embraced. It energized us and, to this day, we still feed on the power generated at the synod. This coming Pentecost we will gather to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Synodal Declaration. One can understand the value Pope Francis places on synodal actions; they engage, empower and challenge us to witness our faith with a missionary spirit.
There have been many positions filled during my last 10 years. I would declare that the archdiocese is second to none in the competency and professionalism of these people of faith who serve the Church. I can’t thank them enough for sharing governance and management with me. One area which typifies the innovative and competent direction of the archdiocese is our schools office under our Superintendent Kathleen Cepelka. We have created regionalization and maintained high standards all in our efforts to keep schools affordable and accessible.
Our seminary continues to attract wonderful candidates who seek to serve the Church and confront the secularistic ideologies. Catholic Charities has grown in its relationship to parishes and increased its presence to the larger community. Our Urban Initiative is proclaiming our commitment to urban areas where the poorest among us reside. The Hispanic and Black Pastoral Plans assist us to shape our image as a Church.
Challenges that confront us are many but allow me to mention a few. The integration and support of rural ministries as family farms continue to decrease. There is a beauty to the rural life and we need to appreciate and value their contribution.
Education in Catholic Social Teachings on all levels reminds us of our responsibility to our community, especially in the area of pro-life matters; the failure of our society to defend the innocent at the very beginning poisons the best of intentions to support our social actions.
We must continue to exercise our religious freedom. Secularists would like to limit and even eliminate the religious voice in the public square; not only would we suffer as a Church but we would suffer as a community denying a significant contribution. We must be ready to exercise our power at the ballot box to ensure our right.
Communication is a significant aspect of the preaching and teaching of the Church’s message. We must be prepared to make the investments necessary in various technologies to assure our parishes, schools and institutions are connected. We also must explore the technological means of evangelization that would be attractive to new generations of potential faithful.
Obviously, to accomplish our continued growth in all our areas, we need the resources economically and professionally. Stewardship must become a way of life, to foster a generous heart, knowing and believing that God will not be outdone in His generosity to us.
I don’t have another 10 years as Archbishop, but in my leadership time remaining, we together can continue the great spiritual tradition of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and hopefully future generations will look back with pride and offer a prayer of thanks.