The woman who was the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s first victim’s assistance coordinator as the scope of the Church’s clergy sexual abuse problem was first coming to light has passed away.
Elizabeth (Liz) Ciallella Piasecki died Tuesday, Oct. 25, at the age of 74.
Piasecki, a licensed clinical psychologist who had seven years providing sexual abuse treatment at the time, became the archdiocese’s sexual abuse response coordinator on Aug. 16, 1993, one day short of her 45th birthday. It was an outgrowth of the work started by Project Benjamin in 1989 to address sexual abuse by clergy.
The position was part of Catholic Social Services (now Catholic Charities) and was to coordinate the response to sexual abuse allegations against clergy or affiliated personnel. She monitored services for victims, survivors and perpetrators.
Tom Schneider was the executive director of CSS at the time and said Piasecki’s addition “will increase our ability to respond appropriately and compassionately to the issue of abuse in the archdiocesan church community with a Christian concern for the well-being of all involved.”
Bishop Emeritus Richard J. Sklba was an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese in 1993 and remembered the impact Piasecki had at the time.
“Liz was a providential God-send at the time: a woman of faith, professionally trained in psychology, having also taken some classes at our Seminary, possessing a great pastoral heart and fully dedicated to both truth and charity,” Bishop Sklba said.
At the time of her hiring, Piasecki said, “I’m pleased to join in the mission and to have the opportunity to respond to the needs of those who have been deeply affected by the tragedy of sexual abuse by those in trusted positions.”
In 1993, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was one of the few dioceses in the United States with a full-time person assigned to deal with sexual abuse cases.
“I see the move as providing more effective pastoral care for both victims and perpetrators without obscuring the clearly different types of response needed by each,” Bishop Sklba told the Catholic Herald when the position was announced.
During her tenure, Piasecki served on an ad hoc committee on sexual abuse for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (which merged with the United States Catholic Conference in 2001 to become the USCCB), developed the Virtus protocols that were part of the Dallas Charter in 2002 and helped develop the code of ethics for Archdiocese of Milwaukee personnel.
In 1995, she planned and hosted a national meeting of abuse survivors from around the country in Milwaukee.
In a December 1993 interview with the Catholic Herald, Piasecki said most of the allegations she had received referred to events that had happened 20 or 30 years ago. She did emphasize that responding quickly to sexual abuse victims is a top priority no matter how old the allegations are.
“Victims really can’t sit around for eight to 10 months wondering what happened. That’s too long,” she said. “They really need to have one person they can call to get information.”
Piasecki received her Master of Science in clinical psychology from Marquette University and graduated magna cum laude with a Doctor of Psychology from Forest Institute in Chicago. In addition to a private practice, she was a clinical assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Medical School and a clinical supervisor in the psychology internship program at Sinai Samaritan Medical Center.
Piasecki was born Aug. 17, 1948, the daughter of the late Emilio and Italia Ciallella. She was also preceded in death by her husband, Michael J. Piasecki, and her brother, Emil (Carol) Ciallella.
She was the beloved mother of Dr. Thomas (Dr. Wendy Slutske) Piasecki and Dr. Shelley (Jason Dierkes) Piasecki, and the loving grandmother of Henry Dierkes and Charles Dierkes. She is further survived by her siblings, Rose Wilson and Dr. Louis (Dr. Bruno) Browning; nieces; nephews; other family; and friends.
Visitation and Mass of Christian Burial were held Tuesday, Oct. 25, at St. Rita Catholic Church. Interment was at Mount Olivet Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family would prefer gifts in her memory be made to the Ciallella Family Endowed Scholarship at Salve Regina University. Gifts by check are payable to Salve Regina University, 100 Ochre Point Ave., Newport, RI 02840, in memory of Elizabeth Piasecki.
“Her lasting legacy is a conviction on the part of archdiocesan authorities that the local Church needs to engage in an on-going conversation with the best of the professionals in this area, and that solid priestly formation demands the very best engagement with competent psycho-social authorities,” Bishop Sklba said. “Liz was instrumental in giving credence to the fact that, if a few members of the clergy and lay teachers contributed to the problem, the Church could also play an important role in addressing and healing the wounds … and did.”