MILWAUKEE — Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki went “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” Monday, Feb. 23, at Marquette University, addressing topics from Pope Francis and Catholic school education to the Archdiocesan Synod and the archdiocese’s bankruptcy proceedings.Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki answers a question during “On the Issues with Mike Gousha,” at Marquette University Law School, Monday, Feb. 23. (Submitted photo courtesy Marquette University Law School)

“On the Issues” is a continuing series of conversations with news and policy makers that supports Marquette University Law School’s commitment to serve as a modern-day public square for the city, state and beyond.

Gousha, an award-winning television journalist and distinguished fellow in law and public policy at the law school, started the hour-long conversation by commending the archbishop for being there when he was “playing with pain,” referring to his ongoing recovery from knee surgery just 19 days earlier.

“I’m on drugs, so you don’t have to worry about it. … It looks like I’ll be genuflecting again real soon,” Archbishop Listecki said, drawing laughter from a crowd of about 175 people.

Describing Pope Francis as a “change agent,” Gousha asked the archbishop what the pope has meant to the church.  


Watch Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki go “On the Issues with Mike Gousha,” at

“Every time you have a change in leadership, the individual brings their own particular type of talents to basically the office, especially to the papacy if you think in terms of it,” Archbishop Listecki said, explaining how John Paul II was a philosophical, creative thinker whose work had to be parsed to be understood, while Benedict XVI was a world-class theologian, “German style,” with a straightforward a, b, c, d-style of teaching.

“In Francis, I believe you have a pastor and so what does that mean? That means he’s going to speak out of turn. …” Archbishop Listecki said. “He’s not going to be bound by the constrictions that others are and we can see that is happening.”

Is rift developing in church?

Gousha asked him whether he worries a rift is developing within church leadership because of people like his predecessor in the La Crosse Diocese, Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, who has been outspoken, saying issues like abortion can’t be talked about enough.

“There are some people who believe that the fact that he was demoted from an important Vatican court was maybe a signal that his opinion was not welcome. Is there a divide within the church leadership on some of the issues of today?” he asked.

“There’s a discussion” on pastoral approaches in church leadership, Archbishop Listecki said, noting he knows Cardinal Burke personally as “one of the most pastoral and sensitive outreaching people you will ever meet.” 

Archbishop Listecki said Cardinal Burke is passionate about church teaching, and understands that disconnect exists with the catechesis and understanding of the church, and its practice.  

But the pope also has the right to choose with whom he wants to work, the archbishop said.

Synod charts next 10-15 years

Gousha asked the archbishop about the priorities for the archdiocese that surfaced as a result of the synod last year.

 “I can tell you that the success of the synod that we experienced came out of prayer and I can tell you that it’s going to be prayer that’s going to help motivate us to establish the priorities, and those priorities are vast,” he said, listing social concerns, liturgy, family, dignity of life.

The archbishop explained that the synod was an attempt to articulate a vision for the church for the next 10-15 years.

Collaboration is future of Catholic education

Gousha asked about schools, noting the future of Catholic education isn’t bright in other areas of the country, with many Catholic schools closing.

“It appears enrollment in Catholic schools in this area stabilized a bit in recent years – the voucher program has certainly helped. How do you see the future of Catholic education playing out in, and particularly in, the City of Milwaukee?” he asked.

“Catholic education has, over the last three, four years, has defied the statistics nationally; it’s increased. Numbers of students in our schools have increased,” Archbishop Listecki said, noting that takes leadership and vision.

The Milwaukee Archdiocese has found success in regionalization, meaning parishes have to collaborate, he said. 

“Now, because we’re in the times that we are, we have to collaborate to marshal our resources to get people working basically together for the betterment and to see that vision,” Archbishop Listecki said, giving the example of how 10 pastors came together in Kenosha to create one school, closing three of the five existing campuses – Kenosha now has more Catholic students than there have been in the last 15 years.

Education is also the way to break the cycle of poverty, Archbishop Listecki said. “But you have to provide an environment to be able to do so. So, I’ve asked, and I announced this at the schools dinner, our Catholic schools dinner, that I wanted to start a Catholic urban initiative for Catholic schools and to bring together individuals that will take a look at regionalizing Catholic education in our urban area to be able to address those issues, to be able to address the issues which will allow students from those areas to be able to have a pathway out of the poverty they experience or the crime they experience.”

Bankruptcy is complex issue

As the hourlong program drew to a close, Gousha asked Archbishop Listecki about the archdiocese’s bankruptcy proceedings. “Where are we in that and where are we in the legal status of the claims that have been made by people in the clergy sexual abuse cases?”

The archbishop said everything is before the judge right now, and a move has been made to address issues including insurance coverage, those who have legitimate claims, and that they’re waiting for decisions from other courts on issues like the cemetery trust. 

“The interesting thing about the Milwaukee bankruptcy is its complexity. It’s not like other bankruptcies that have been experienced by dioceses or archdioceses in the country, and there are about approximately 11 that have been involved,” the archbishop said.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee declared bankruptcy a year after Archbishop Listecki came to Milwaukee because he knew the archdiocese was dealing with limited resources and needed to do something to address and bring closure to those who have legitimate claims, while marshaling resources to continue the mission of the church, “which is basically charity, education and the spiritual worship of our community,” he said.

Constitutional issues, religious aspects and separation of what constitutes the archdiocese’s estate – separately incorporated parishes and other existing entities like the cemetery trust – add to its complexity, he explained.

“But does that explain the delay in resolving these claims?” Gousha asked.

“Sure,” he said, explaining that the archdiocese is paying attorneys on both sides, issues are being brought before the judge who is moving it along, and giving both sides homework to do.

Longer proceedings lead to greater pain

Gousha also asked if the archbishop worried that the longer the proceedings dragged on, if it would contribute to unresolved pain some of the victims of sexual abuse had.

“No amount of money will ever heal the pain that victims have experienced. That’s just a fact, but they’re ours. … so we have to continue, no matter which way, to find ways to be able to try to assist at least in dealing with it or that healing or hearing it,” Archbishop Listecki said, noting that he began a Mass of Atonement when he came to Milwaukee to recognize that the church takes responsibility for the pain and places it before God in prayers for healing

“Let me ask you a terribly blunt question, and I say this with all due respect, there are victim-survivors who say you know at the end of the day the archdiocese which is saying that it doesn’t have money, and you said you’re going to be in debt after this, will have paid more money to attorneys to defend itself than it will have paid to victims of clergy sex abuse. What do you say to that?”

“(The lawyers) have to do their job, and they do their job representing basically the issues and hopefully with integrity and to the best that they can,” he said, stressing the complexities of the bankruptcy contribute to the rise in costs. 

“I like you would have preferred to take what we had as the estate and just turn it over and basically look for division; that doesn’t happen in bankruptcy though,” he said.

Gousha also asked if the lingering effects of these stories and cases were having a major impact on church attendance and giving. 

Archbishop Listecki said it may sound strange, but people at the parishes have said that morale has never been higher.

Gousha also asked the archbishop, who served as a military chaplain for 23 years, for his take on religious extremism, ISIS and horrific images involving ISIS militants.

“It’s self-evident that this is nothing but evil. Evil. Simple evil. And what I’m hoping also is that because Islam is involved that the voices of the imams, the voices of the voices of the various Islamic communities will come forward and condemn that evil. … I can tell you that if something happened in the Catholic Church that even came close to something like that, I would be called forth to condemn that and to say this is not part of who we are.”