ST. FRANCIS — Sitting in his office Monday afternoon, Aug. 3, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki exuded calm. Taking occasional sips from a cup of hot tea, he talked about the Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization that had consumed a large part – “Four years and eight months,” he noted – of his time as leader of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Settlement acknowledges past hurts, future reconciliation, Herald of Hope column by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki
A lawyer and a pastor, the archbishop spoke in the tone of the latter. “We are turning a page on a chapter in our history – a terrible part of the history,” he said about the clergy sexual abuse crisis. “Now, we must continue doing the charitable, educational and spiritual work of the archdiocese. Our complete focus is on mission, but we must not forget those who have been harmed.”
Archbishop Listecki acknowledged the clergy sexual abuse crisis has had an impact upon that mission.
“Something I’ve consistently said is that the experience of the clergy sexual abuse has made us – through the stories shared by the victims – has made us, I think, a better church,” he said. “It has made us strong in many areas, and has helped us come to grips with our responsibilities, especially toward the young and the oversight that needs to be taken.”
He noted that as a result of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, the archdiocese has trained tens of thousands of people to protect young people, established a Community Advisory Board and Safe Environment Program, and has had its employees sign the Ethical Code of Conduct.
“All of these changes have been brought about as a result of this,” Archbishop Listecki said. He said the archdiocese needs to continue to remind “people in the pews” about what it is doing to protect children and youth.
“I started the annual Mass for Atonement so that we could raise the consciousness of people concerning clergy sexual abuse and the devastation that it caused,” the archbishop said. “But at the same time, to alert people to what we have actually accomplished in relationship to that.” Betterment of the church goes beyond programs and events,” he said.
“You can’t say you’re a better church if it hasn’t strengthened your own spiritual life. By strengthening it I mean the devastation of the clergy sexual abuse is like being hit by a natural disaster. Either you can throw your hands down and in depression just give up, or look to what God is directing you to do in the midst of that and to see him as your only hope and to look to reconciliation as providing a new moment, to understand our responsibility in trying to heal wounds,” Archbishop Listecki said.
“When you do that, your spiritual life is strengthened because you realize you’re helpless to do anything for a situation like this. But God can help you achieve whatever you need to achieve in order to bring wholeness and healing,” he added.
Noting his gratitude to all who supported the church with their prayers during Chapter, 11, the archbishop said, “I would ask that they continue to pray that we continue to grow as an archdiocese in the way God wants from us. We pray for the victims who have suffered needlessly at the hands of priests who violated their priesthood and gone contrary to everything the church teaches.”