ST. FRANCIS – Responding to news media stories about reporting policies regarding sexual abuse of children, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki addressed the matter of those policies – both in his former Diocese of La Crosse and in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee – in writing earlier this week.
Monday afternoon, Feb. 15, members of the Community Advisory Board and more than 5,000 people involved in ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee received a letter from the archbishop in which he explained “clearly what happens when a report of sexual abuse of minors by a diocesan priest is received by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”
The archbishop acknowledged that he has already met with the Community Advisory Board, whom he described “as a group that includes members from outside the church structure, with expertise in sexual abuse/assault to counsel me on policies and procedures related to clergy sexual abuse of minors,” and that he plans to meet with them monthly.
“We have adopted high standards in working with victims/survivors and their families, and have worked collaboratively with other victim assistance agencies to do so,” the archbishop wrote, noting that the polices are annually independently reviewed and audited under the guidelines established by the U.S. bishops’ 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
“I hope we can continue to build upon these standards and continue reaching out to all those who have been harmed in a sensitive, compassionate and pastoral manner to ensure, to the best of our ability, that we promote healing and resolution with the church,” Archbishop Listecki wrote.
How sexual abuse is reported
The archbishop delineated three points in noting how allegations of abuse are handled by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“We require any staff member or volunteer, who knows or suspects that a minor (under the age of 18) is being sexually abused to report directly to the civil or criminal authorities,” he wrote, adding that the archdiocese follows State of Wisconsin mandatory reporting laws.
Citing the policy that has been in place since 2003, Archbishop Listecki continued, “When a person comes forward to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee with a report of sexual abuse/assault, and the abuse occurred when the person was a minor but the person is reporting as an adult, the case is automatically reported to civil authorities if the perpetrator is still alive.”
Adults who may have been victims of sexual abuse or misconduct are not only encouraged to inform the archdiocese, but civil authorities, too.
“When an adult comes forward to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee with a report of sexual abuse or misconduct that occurred when the person was an adult, they are encouraged to make a report to the civil authorities. In this case, it is our policy to defer to the wishes of the reporting adult as to whether to contact civil authorities,” the archbishop wrote.
He noted that Amy Peterson, Victim Assistance Coordinator for the archdiocese, had counseled him that the benchmark of deferring to the adult victim is the standard practice by social service, advocacy, and victim assistance agencies in the community.
Clearing up confusion in La Crosse
Earlier this month, Eau Claire Police Chief Jerry Matysik accused the archbishop of misleading state legislators when the latter testified before a Seante Judiciary Committee hearing. The chief contended that parents of minors who may have been sexually abused by clergy in the LaCrosse Diocese were told to report the matter to the diocese.
In response to the policie chief’s claims, La Crosse diocesan attorney James Birnbaum told JS Online that the diocese had never failed to report (child sex abuse) immediately to authorities
In his Feb. 15 letter, Archbishop Listecki wrote, “There has been confusion about policies in La Crosse. I have encouraged the La Crosse Diocese to more directly state their child abuse reporting policies and to post them on their Web site and in their newspaper. The La Crosse Diocesan Child Sexual Abuse Review Board met yesterday to review this suggestion and directed those clarifications be made.”
Responding through media
In addition to the letter, Archbishop Listecki wrote an op ed piece, “Reporting abuse to civil authorities a must,” published in the Feb. 16 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In the article, he reiterated many of the points contained in the letter, and noted that he would “hold perpetrators accountable and remove them from any public ministry, regardless of whether any criminal prosecution can occur.”
The archbishop concluded his Journal Sentinel article: “Our primary concerns as a church are to work with victims/survivors; to provide assistance toward healing and resolution; to hold perpetrators accountable; and to put in place policies and procedures that ensure, to the best of our ability, nothing like this horror can ever happen again. This was a priority for me in La Crosse and will remain a priority for me in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”