ST. FRANCIS –The Archdiocese of Milwaukee announced Wednesday, April 3, that it will publicly release approximately 3,000 pages of documents that contain details about clergy sexual abuse and will post them to the archdiocesan website, (archmil.org) by July 1, 2013.
The documents, taken from priest personnel files, files of the bishops and vicar for clergy and other sources in the archdiocese, include the depositions of Archbishop Emeritus Rembert G. Weakland, Bishop Emeritus Richard J. Sklba and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, taken in Chapter 11 proceedings.
The announcement came a day before a scheduled hearing before Judge Susan V. Kelley in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin to discuss a motion filed by the creditors committee and attorneys Michael Finnegan and Jeffrey Anderson to lift the protective order to make public documents and depositions taken as part of the proceedings.
Calling the decision to release the documents an effort to build “upon our commitment to transparency,” Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, in “Love One Another” – his email communiqué to priests and others involved in ministry in the Milwaukee Archdiocese – said, “My hope is by making these documents public, we will shed much-needed light on how the archdiocese responded to abuse survivors over the past 40-plus years when confronting this issue and they will aid abuse survivors and others in resolution and healing.”
The documents have already been provided to attorneys for the claimants and creditors in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, wrote the archbishop in his email explaining their release.
“The bishops voluntarily waived their right to have these depositions remain under seal as was promised by the court and each welcomes the opportunity to have the depositions in the public view as a way of getting out the truth of what happened,” he wrote.
The deposition by Cardinal Dolan to be released was taken Feb. 20 by Anderson in New York.
“I am pleased with the decision of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to release more documents in its Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding, including my February 2013 deposition,” said Cardinal Dolan in a statement issued by the Archdiocese of New York on April 3. “As I stated at the time of the deposition, I was grateful for the opportunity to go on-the-record with a full account of how the Archdiocese of Milwaukee responded to abuse survivors, and to answer any questions that I could,” he said, adding he stands ready to assist in any way he can.
“It is my hope that the release of these documents will also help in the healing process for abuse survivors, as well as their families and loved ones. Archbishop Jerome Listecki has my sincere thanks and full support in this matter,” the cardinal said.
In his “Love One Another” email, Archbishop Listecki warned that much of the information in the documents is not pleasant.
“As a shepherd, I worry about those who will feel outrage, anger and embarrassment. I share these emotions. But none of these things should diminish the good work that has been accomplished these past 10+ years as we have worked fervently with abuse survivors to bring healing and resolution,” he wrote.
He added he hopes sharing these documents publicly “will finally bring to a close a criticism that the church continues to hide or conceal information, or that there are ‘secret files’ tucked away in our archives. I can assure you, there are not.”
He summarized the contents of the documents saying they show incidents of abuse date back 25, 50, even 80 years; reports of abuse were often not brought to the archdiocese or civil authorities until decades after they occurred and in the 1970s and 1980s, and “priests were often removed from their parish for ‘medical reasons,’ sent for counseling and then reassigned to another parish, with the recommendation of their therapist or medical professional.”
Archbishop Listecki also noted that in the early 1990s, a more formalized approach of outreach to abuse survivors and in dealing with offenders emerged.
Explaining his decision to authorize the release of the documents now, he wrote, “The release of documents is something abuse survivors have asked for and if it can help us keep moving forward, I am willing to do it.” He noted the church’s response to abuse survivors will be part of the mission of the church forever.
In his letter, Archbishop Listecki addressed critics who will feel justified indignation, believing that these documents verify that the church was sweeping this issue under the rug.
“I won’t debate that issue; we will let the facts stand for themselves within the culture and societal practices of the times,” he wrote, adding that now he sees the church as an example of reform.
“Have you seen an institution change more radically in its approach to an issue as the Catholic Church has done regarding sexual abuse of minors? In the past, the church may have been an example of what not to do, but now, the church is an example of what to do and a model for other institutions in our society to follow,” wrote Archbishop Listecki.