BROOKFIELD — On Sunday, Chris Jonardi was surprised to see a familiar face enter St. John Vianney Church as the 9 a.m. Mass began.

“I didn’t know Archbishop (Jerome E.) Listecki would be at the Mass, but it was so nice he was here,” she said.

His appearance had special significance considering that this was the first Sunday after the Archdiocese of Milwaukee filed for Chapter 11 reorganization of its financial affairs under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Archbishop Listecki announced that decision on Jan. 4.

After the opening hymn, Archbishop Listecki told the congregation that he tries to spend Sunday Mass at different parishes throughout the archdiocese. When a previous appointment for that Sunday morning was canceled, he explained that Jerry Topczewski, his chief of staff, suggested coming to St. John Vianney.

“I hadn’t been here for Sunday Mass and this also is a chance to see my good friend, Fr. Ken,” Archbishop Listecki said, referring to the St. John Vianney pastor, Fr. Kenneth P. Knippel.
Sunday was the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and Archbishop Listecki focused his homily on baptism and the sacrament’s display of God’s love for his people.

Near the end of Mass, Fr. Knippel made reference to the archdiocese’s filing for Chapter 11 reorganization. He explained that people attending Mass at churches throughout the archdiocese would be listening to a taped message from Archbishop Listecki regarding the filing.
“But we won’t make the archbishop sit here and listen to his own recording,” Fr. Knippel quipped.

Instead, Archbishop Listecki stood at the ambo and read the message – without additional comments – that was heard in parishes throughout the archdiocese.

“I want to start by expressing my own profound and sincere apology to anyone who has been a victim of clergy sexual abuse. Everything said today, or in any discussion of the impact of clergy abuse on the church pales in comparison to the harm that has been done to the individual victims,” he read.

“The abuse was sinful and criminal. The actions of the perpetrators were deplorable and I am ashamed because of those actions,” read the archbishop, adding that while bankruptcy is a drastic step, it is a process to develop both resolution and closure.

He explained that the process will likely run 12 to 18 months and stressed that the filing applies only to the archdiocese, not parishes, schools or other church entities such as Catholic hospitals or Catholic Charities.

Thanking parishioners for their loyalty during this time, the archbishop concluded by relating his message to that of the day’s Gospel: “Like baptism, where we experience a rebirth in the Lord, our church in the archdiocese can and will experience the same birth. In this miraculous season of hope and new life, we place our trust in God and we move forward, knowing he is with us always.”

Reflecting on what the archbishop said during the homily and the Chapter 11 message, Jonardi commented after Mass, “I appreciate his honesty and sincerity. I think there are a lot of misconceptions and fear. We have good guidance through him. He is doing a good job.”

A few other parishioners walking to their cars offered to share their thoughts about the day’s Mass.

“The archbishop gave a very nice homily,” said Joe Pottebaum.

“Yes, I really enjoyed it ,too. I learned more about baptism,” his wife Sherry added. The couple said they knew the archbishop would be at Mass because Joe is in the choir and they had heard the news from other choir members at a get-together the night before.

Carole Basile also knew Archbishop Listecki would be celebrating the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Masses that day.
“I saw it online, in the bulletin posted on the (St. John Vianney) Web site,” she said.
Basile said she supports the decision to file for Chapter 11.
“The priests were not good who did these things,” she said. “But I don’t think we have a choice, I think it’s good that we’re doing this because we need to protect the church,” she said, explaining her concern that future litigation would drain church assets.

As Archbishop Listecki stood near the narthex doors following Mass, many people gave him words of encouragement, support and gratitude for celebrating the liturgy with them.

“His visits with people after Mass meant a lot to many of our parishioners,” Fr. Knippel commented the following day. “I think it’s especially wonderful that on a Sunday when he had a cancellation of activities on his schedule and could have simply laid low, instead he chose to seek out a parish to come to for a regular Sunday Mass to give Fr. Phillip (Bogacki) and me a break and to be with his people. Not every bishop would do this and not many could do it as well.”