The archbishop also told the more than 50 people in attendance, including media, that he hopes to be a collaborator and not an obstacle to the community.

“I hope that I am a collaborator…in addressing these problems that are of concern to the city and realize that the church – being a church of faith – it is already concerned with the people, the well-being of those communities that the church finds itself in,” he said.

Bohr’s question of what the archbishop gave up for Lent – sweets, but he said God understands that he can’t be disrespectful to parishes that prepare cakes and ethnic pastries to welcome him – lightened the otherwise serious discussion on topics ranging from the decreasing number of Catholics in the local church during the past year to the financial situation of the archdiocese to the potential denial of Communion to Catholic lawmakers who vote contrary to Catholic beliefs.

Secularism is growing

“A lot of it has to do with the change of climate in our society,” Archbishop Listecki said in response to Johnson’s question about the Catholic Church’s loss of “38,000 people” during the past year and whether it’s better to have a “small tent in which people agree on everything or a larger tent that tolerates dissent.”

“Individuals, and I’ve said this before, are becoming more and more secular,” he said.

Though the First Amendment secures freedom of religion and protects against the establishment of a religion, Archbishop Listecki said the contrary is true.

“In my sense, there is a religion being established by the government that’s supported – it’s called secularism.…” he said. “What that attempts to do is neutralize any kind of voice of religion in any way, shape or form, whereas in my sense of the Founding Fathers and my reading of the Founding Fathers was the fact that there was a blend and each voice contributed literally to the community without ever having a dominant voice so that it wouldn’t pose any particular values to the detriment of others.”

Faith groups, including Catholics, are responding to secularism’s pervasiveness in society by “becoming more identifiable,” he said, responding to Johnson’s statement about concern among some people that the church “is becoming a smaller tent, but more ideologically homogenous.”

“It’s doing so, so that it can make a statement against those that would offer opinion,” the archbishop said, referencing the diversity of the Catholic Church found in the local Jesuit, Dominican, Franciscan and Benedictine orders.

“…but when you’re talking about teaching of the church, there’s certain defined, dogmatic teachings of the church which do not allow itself (to be) open for debate,” he said, also noting that other religions are seeing similar decreases in participation.

Moving forward with limited resources

Bohr questioned the finances of the archdiocese, including former Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan’s mention of “possibility of bankruptcy,” and the status of the Cousins Center.

Archbishop Listecki said his task is to clearly define a mission, move forward with the resources available and understand that problems will be addressed as they arise, with the Gospel mission in mind.

“The church can’t shrug its responsibilities because it’s burdened by, potentially, other factors. We’d be, then, disingenuous about how we hope for the mission, the Gospel mission, to be paramount in who we are as church,” the archbishop said. “Now, I’m also a realist. I understand we have to consider those resources and what the loss of those resources would do, but I, you know, believe if we are honest and we place the needs before our Catholics, they will help us to achieve those in whatever way, shape or form we might have to.”

Deny Communion to politicians?

To answer Byman’s question of whether the archbishop would deny Communion to local Catholic lawmakers who vote contrary to Catholic beliefs, Archbishop Listecki said each situation must be considered individually and that “there’s a need for the bishop to not only be teacher, but be pastor and in that sense to come to know the heart of the individual.”

While the archbishop said he would seek to understand an individual and help him or her understand the teaching, he would need to consider the impact that the individual’s actions would have on the Catholic community.

“I can’t tell you that there wouldn’t be somebody who would be so obstinate in terms of not caring about the slander that they would give to the Catholics in the community that would basically force my hand to do that, but that’s not … what I would either envision, nor something which I would embrace,” Archbishop Listecki said.

Johnson sought clarification, asking the archbishop if a pro-choice Catholic political figure was “essentially slandering the church,” if his or her views were unchanged after speaking with the archbishop about the church’s teachings.

Archbishop Listecki said, “No,” because of the different ways people understand pro-choice.

“It’s very difficult for me just to see how somebody can be pro-choice knowing what the teaching of the church (is), but individuals may be pro-choice looking to limit abortions,” the archbishop said, but he also said it’s hard for him to envision a society that justifies ending the lives of its future citizens.

Questioned on sexual abuse

Panelists’ questions also focused on the issue of sexual abuse in the church and how the archdiocese handles it. Bohr asked the archbishop to explain a comment he made in a recent talk at Marquette University that he didn’t want to meet with the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, because he felt that they had a different agenda.

“Part of my role is to hopefully bring about healing and certainly I said that at that encounter at that time I would meet with any victim if that helped to bring about healing, if it helped to bring about the listening of the church,” he said, explaining that he questions whether the issues SNAP brings forth are concerned with healing.

Archbishop Listecki explained, too, the archdiocesan policy on priest sexual abuse.

“First of all, if it’s a minor, they should immediately, and if they don’t we will, go to local authorities. …” he said, answering Byman’s question about what the archdiocese tells people about reporting such a circumstance. “When there’s an adult, the adult is free to go either to the police or, when they come to us, we certainly will take a look at a situation.”

He acknowledged that adult-to-adult situations are more difficult, “but there is no way that they would be discouraged from going to the police if they should choose to do so.”

Academic freedom and Catholic identity

The comments that Archbishop Listecki made during his Marquette University talk about the controversy that surrounded President Barack Obama’s 2009 commencement speech and honorary doctorate at the University of Notre Dame sparked Johnson’s question of what the relationship should be between the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and local Catholic colleges. Archbishop Listecki said that any institution that claims to be Catholic finds its identity in the local bishop.

“Its Catholic identity is not apart from the bishop,” he said. “When I said that Notre Dame should have consulted then-Bishop John M. D’Arcy, it should have understood that whatever Notre Dame does on that scale affects the entire diocese and there was a failure in the leadership of Notre Dame to consult with the bishop and to inform and to dialogue with him about their idea, about offering a platform to President Obama.”

Archbishop Listecki also explained that while Catholic universities are governed by their boards, they should realize the existing relationship with the diocese, which is what he expects with local Catholic institutions.

“I would expect to basically open dialogue with them. I would expect to understand if they carry at least a Catholic identity, that they understand the relationship that they have with the bishop in order to maintain that Catholic identity,” he said.

Johnson wondered if the people at universities who have been critical of the church will be quashed in their discussion of these topics and whether their academic freedom will be unchanged.

“No, academic freedom has nothing to do with the decision to offer a platform for an award,” Archbishop Listecki said.

The archbishop explained that academic freedom is different.

“I respect the academic freedom in the classroom, but I also have a freedom and that freedom is if whoever it is – the teacher – attacks the church, then, you know, then I will be there to defend it,” he said.

Catholic education is priority

Byman asked if the archbishop thought there’s a role for the public to fund Catholic or religious education.

“I do believe, at least, there should be some type of consideration given for Catholic education and, basically, the quality that Catholic education provides especially the minority areas as well as other areas,” he said, explaining that parochial schools take a burden off of the state government to provide for the number of children who would be in public schools, the teachers, buildings and other resources.

He also commended Milwaukee for its choice program.

“Education is the way that we help the society both to grow and to expand and if the Catholic Church, if the Lutheran Church, if other private entities are doing that job, well my sense is the government should be supportive,” Archbishop Listecki said.

Johnson asked for his insight into the Vatican’s study on the life and declining membership of women religious and on the view of some sisters that it’s a way to push them into more traditional roles. In his experience of national papal studies done of seminaries, Archbishop Listecki said the same feelings arose but that the studies are meant to improve the orders.

“There were some things we were doing really well that they recognized and some things we needed to address that we probably were not, and it made us better,” he said, explaining that the Catholic Church wants to maximize the power and good works of the orders and challenge them to do a better job in some areas.