Archdiocese of Milwaukee set to release sex abuse files

MILWAUKEE (WITI) — The Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Monday, July 1st is set to release  thousands of records related to Archdiocese sex abuse cases. The files are expected to shed more light on who knew about alleged misconduct of priests, and for how long.

The document release was announced again by the Milwaukee Archdiocese in June, when the Archdiocese released a statement after news broke of an audit relating to sex abuse by Capuchin priests.

In the statement, the Archdiocese said:

“We commend the Capuchin’s decision to provide more open and candid communication related to clergy sexual abuse of minors.  In 2004, when the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was one of the first dioceses in the country to make public the names of diocesan priest offenders with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, we encouraged religious orders to do the same.  Today, we continue to work toward reconciliation with abuse survivors. In two weeks, the archdiocese will post additional documents to our website as part of our own commitment to transparency.”

The Archdiocese initially announced back in April on its website and via Archbishop Jerome Listecki’s blog that it would release these records.

SNAP, the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests has asked that these documents be unsealed and released to the public.

The Archdiocese made its announcement to release the files in April — the day before the matter was to be decided in bankruptcy court.

The Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2011 to deal with sex abuse claims. Lawyers representing the men and women who filed the claims had been seeking the documents’ release.

The documents that will be released include depositions of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop Weakland and Bishop Sklba.

SNAP had urged the Attorney General’s Office to step in and force the Milwaukee Archdiocese to turn over the documents detailing child sex abuse claims as the Archdiocese went through its bankruptcy proceedings.

In his blog posting, Archbishop Listecki in April said:

“My predecessor, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, was candid in his sharing of information, including providing a public listing of all diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.  Since my arrival as your archbishop in 2010, I have tried to maintain that same direction in my ministry.  Building upon our commitment to transparency, today I have authorized the public release of thousands of pages of documents that contain information and details about clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.   The documents will be posted to the archdiocesan website by July 1, 2013.

These documents have already been provided to attorneys for the claimants and creditors in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding.  They are taken directly from priest personnel files, files of the bishops, vicar for clergy, and other sources within the archdiocese.  These documents include the depositions of Archbishop Weakland, Bishop Sklba and Cardinal Dolan, which were taken in the Chapter 11 proceeding.  Each of the bishops has told me they welcome the opportunity to have the depositions in the public view as a way of getting out the truth of what happened and each has voluntarily waived their right to have these depositions remain under seal as was promised by the court. 

My hope is by making these documents public, we will shed much-needed light on how the archdiocese responded to abuse survivors over the past 40-plus years when confronting this issue and that they will aid abuse survivors and others in resolution and healing.

A primary concern is protecting the identity of abuse survivors who do not want to be identified.  During these next months, we will meticulously review these documents to ensure that the privacy of abuse survivors and their families is respected.

A difficult challenge in reading these documents is trying to set the context and culture of the time they were produced. How sexual abuse is acknowledged and addressed today is far different than in past decades.  Depositions, for example, are not objective, but are one-sided by their nature.  To try and ensure the documents are judged fairly, the archdiocese will create an objective timeline of events for each diocesan offender on the list of clergy with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. These timelines will be supported by the actual documents being released and our hope is to work with the claimants’ attorneys to create these timelines.

Much of the information in the documents is not pleasant to read.  As a shepherd, I worry about those who will feel outrage, anger and embarrassment.  I share those emotions.  But none of these things should diminish the good work that has been accomplished these past 10+ years as we have worked fervently with abuse survivors to bring healing and resolution.  I believe sharing these documents publicly will finally bring to a close a criticism that the Church continues to hide or conceal information, or that there are “secret files” tucked away in our archives.  I can assure you, there are not.

So what will people find in reading these documents?  Here’s a summary:

  • The incidents of abuse date back 25, 50, even 80 years.
  • The vast majority of perpetrators were not known to the archdiocese until years after they committed the abuse.
  • Reports of abuse were often not brought to the archdiocese or civil authorities until decades after they occurred.
  • In the 1970s and 80s, priests were often removed from their parish for “medical reasons,” sent for counseling, and then reassigned to another parish, with the recommendation of their therapist or medical professional.
  • The majority of priests who were reassigned after concerns about their behavior, never abused again, but some did.
  • The archdiocese consistently paid for therapy for individuals harmed.
  • Civil authorities did not always pursue investigations and neither did the archdiocese.
  • Even when priests were prosecuted and found guilty or pled no contest, they did not always receive a jail sentence.
  • People often reported concerns about a priest that were not abuse, but rather concerns about unusual or questionable behaviors, boundary issues or uninvited attention/affection — what we know today as possible signs of “grooming.”
  • In the early 1990s, a more formalized approach of outreach to abuse survivors and in dealing with offenders began to emerge.

Some of you might ask, “Why?  Why keep bringing this up?  Let this be over and move on.”  Part of me would like it if that was even possible, but I know the effects of clergy sexual abuse of minors will never be over.  The release of documents is something abuse survivors have asked for and if it can help us keep moving forward, I am willing to do it.  Our response to abuse survivors, whether of clergy or others, will be part of the mission of the Church forever. 

Other people will feel justified indignation; believing that these documents verify that the Church was sweeping this issue under the rug.  I won’t debate that issue; we will let the facts stand for themselves within the culture and societal practices of the times.  But, I do know this.  What we have seen in the Church, we have now begun to see in other institutions.  One thing we do know is that the Church is now an example of reform.  Have you ever seen an institution change more radically in its approach to an issue as the Catholic Church has done regarding sexual abuse of minors?  In the past, the Church may have been an example of what not to do, but now, the Church is an example of what to do and a model for other institutions in our society to follow.

We must remember that our Church is a Church of sinners, comprised of imperfect men and women.  Our faith remains in the One who is perfect – the head of the Church, Jesus Christ.  And, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John, “then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” 

You have my assurance of prayers for you during this joyous Easter season, as we continue our journey in faith and following the Lord’s command to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”

Attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents some of the victims issued a statement on this matter, reading:

“We are pleased with the decision of Archbishop Listecki to release documents and timelines related to clergy sexual abuse of minors by diocesan priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  This has been an important issue for abuse survivors and it is a significant step as we work toward transparency.  We sought and received access to thousands of pages of documents regarding abusive priests and we were able to determine freely which documents should be released for review by the public.  We are confident that all information about survivors has been redacted to protect their privacy.  Having this information available will assist in the healing process for survivors, for Catholics and for the community.”

SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests released the following statement upon learning of the documents’ planned release:

“After two years of legal battles to prevent any public release of documents and key depositions related to the sexual abuse of children by clergy of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, it has been filed late Wednesday in the Milwaukee Federal Bankruptcy Court a public notification that the church lawyers will cease their legal efforts to keep secret internal church documents pertaining to 45 Milwaukee clergy known to have assaulted children. 

The announcement represents  a major victory for the 550 victims who have filed cases into the Federal Bankruptcy Court. 

The diocese has also agreed to no longer block the release of depositions taken by the court of former Archbishop Rembert Weakland, Bishop Richard Sklba, and current New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Dolan ran the Milwaukee Archdiocese from 2002 to 2010.  Also to be released is a deposition of serial priest offender, Daniel Budzinski.

The 45 priests represent what is likely only half the known or alleged clergy, deacons, employees and volunteers who have assaulted children in the archdiocese.

The files or documents of the remaining clerics who have assaulted children while working or living in the archdiocese, 23 of whom have been publically identified by non-church sources and courts (http://bishop-accountability.org/member/psearch.jsp) are not part of the July 1st release, including files of priests convicted in Milwaukee for child sex abuse. 

Over half the clerics working in the Milwaukee archdiocese belong to religious orders—such as the Jesuits, Capuchin Franciscans, Salvatorians and others—one of the highest such  proportions of any diocese in the US.  These clerics are assigned to the Milwaukee archdiocese with the permission and under the authority of the Archbishop, and staff many archdiocesan parishes, schools and ministries.  For example, Fr. Bob Marsicek, removed last week by Archbishop Listecki from ministry and under a current police investigation, was assigned Pastor of Pius X parish in Wauwatosa, an archdiocesan parish staffed by the Salvatorian religious order. 

The Salvatorian and many other Catholic religious orders have their national or international headquarters in Milwaukee, important because religious orders have historically moved known offenders from parishes and school into or through their headquarters.

The release also does not include the identities or results of the investigations required under church law of the at least 100 never before named alleged offenders contained in victim reports submitted to the Milwaukee Federal Bankruptcy Court.  According to attorneys representing 350 of the 570 victim cases, of those 100 alleged offenders, 75 are clergy, many of them members of religious orders.

The depositions of Weakland and Sklba, who ran the archdiocese for over 25 years are expected to reveal key details in the cover up of child sex crimes by both men.  This is the first known deposition taken of Sklba, who Weakland called in previous testimony his “go to guy” on “all abuse cases.”  

Victims are hoping that Dolan’s deposition, although very short (under 3 hours) will answer three key questions: (1) his payouts to pedophile priests to quietly leave the priesthood, which he publically denied in 2007 but court documents now prove he had instituted as a secret policy since 2003 and his handling of offender priests like serial child molester Franklyn Becker, (2) his transfer of tens of millions of dollars off the books before the diocese declared bankruptcy, and (3) deceiving victims in a church-created “mediation” program as to the known history of the priests that sexually assaulted them so as to interfere with the filing of fraud cases.  

Arguments related to the release of the remaining abuser documents and information is scheduled to be taken up by Federal Bankruptcy Judge Susan V Kelley in the coming months.” 

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