That same faith will carry the church forward, noted the archbishop, encouraging Catholics to rely on their faith during this time.
“This is the church that Jesus Christ founded. Does it have human failings? Yes, we’re experiencing human failings of individuals who are members of the church, but this is the church Jesus Christ founded, this is the church that produced the glorious history, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It did so on the same faith that is present in our people today, and it will be that same faith which we will build upon as we go into the future,” said Archbishop Listecki.
The decision to reorganize its financial affairs under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code was not made lightly, said the archbishop, noting it came after all other options were exhausted.
“We tried everything that we could do, short of reorganization,” he said, explaining that once mediation efforts failed in mid-December, the archdiocese looked at its options. Attorneys for 16 victims/survivors of sexual abuse of minors by priests rejected the archdiocese’s formal settlement offer of $4.6 million, according to the archbishop in his Dec. 16 Love One Another communiqué.
With the failure of these mediation efforts, the archbishop said the archdiocese’s options included continuing the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, attempting to litigate pending cases or trying to continue with further mediation, but the archbishop noted that once the archdiocese’s offer was rejected, further mediation efforts seemed fruitless.
“As a result, there are financial claims pending against the archdiocese that exceed our means,” he explained in a letter released Tuesday, Jan. 4 to Catholics in southeastern Wisconsin. “Our recent failure to reach a mediated resolution with victims/survivors involved lawsuits against the archdiocese, along with the November court decision that insurance companies are not bound to contribute to any financial settlement made it clear that reorganization is the best way to fairly and equitably fulfill our obligations.”
|“Hopefully this is a
way we can bring some
resolution to a tragedy.
If we can do that, then
we can start to build a
new day, and we’ll be
basically a different
church, hopefully a
– Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki
While the archbishop acknowledged that filing for reorganization is a drastic measure, he said it’s the only solution that brings resolution and closure to a tragic situation.
To critics who might insinuate the archdiocese is shirking its financial obligations, Archbishop Listecki suggested just the opposite.
By filing for reorganization, the decision on how to distribute the funds will now be turned over to a judge.
“Therefore, turning it over to a judge to make a judicial decision and make a determination pulls it out of our hands, so an equitable decision can be made, not only for those who are seeking recompense for wrongs now, but also for those who will be there in the future,” he said. “As long as (it) remained in my hands, everybody said, ‘You’re not doing enough,’ ‘You should do more.’ This way, someone else, the judge, will be making that determination.”
Coming to this decision was personally difficult, acknowledged the archbishop.
“When I assumed this position, I said I will try to do everything I can to avoid bankruptcy,” he said, noting that the question of reorganization in bankruptcy court has been on the minds of people in the archdiocese for some time.
“Our attempted mediation was an aspect to try to avoid bankruptcy as that is not a course you take lightly,” he said. But even though he determined it was not possible to avoid filing for reorganization, Archbishop Listecki does not feel defeated by the decision.
“Do I see it as a defeat? No. Hopefully this is a way we can bring some resolution to a tragedy. If we can do that, then we can start to build a new day, and we’ll be basically a different church, hopefully a stronger church,” he said.
In the days to come, the archbishop expects to rely on faith to guide him forward.
“I’ll have to depend a great deal on faith, confidence and trust of people so that has to be the sense that guides and directs us as we go forward into the future,” he said, describing the future work of the church as the ability to reach out to others in terms of ministry while having confidence in God and a personal prayer life.
“We have to make sure we are always strong in the area of protecting children and young people so that something like this never happens again,” he said. “We’ve already started along the course in those other aspects and now we have to reinforce that to be able to look forward to literally evangelizing our community in what truly is important to ourselves as a church.”
In his letter to Catholics, the archbishop noted that the pain and suffering of those who have been harmed by abusive priests is beyond imagining. Likewise, he wrote that “our financial reorganization will be painful, as it should be. This process will lay the groundwork for a new beginning. Like a damaged tree that is pruned drastically, I firmly believe our archdiocese will ultimately grow back, healthier and stronger, as long as our own faith remains rooted in Jesus Christ.”