April 3, 2013continue at ArchMil
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It has been more than 10 years since 2002, when the news about clergy sexual abuse of minors dominated news headlines across the country and changed forever the way the Catholic Church would be viewed because of this issue. I’m sorry this Love One Another is a little longer than usual, but there is so much ground to cover with this topic that I ask your patience. And, although you usually receive my email on Tuesdays, I send this today because I wanted you to hear this news directly from me.
This has been an especially poignant topic in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee as hundreds of courageous abuse survivors have come forward to tell their story. I beg the forgiveness of those who have been harmed. For myself and in the name of the Church I give those abuse survivors and their families my sincere apology.
The challenges facing the archdiocese are many. First, acknowledging the scandalous and embarrassing facts about how men, who were trusted priests, shattered that trust through their sinful and criminal behavior. Second, learning how some in advisory and leadership roles made ill-advised decisions, even if that only became clear in hindsight. Then there have been financial challenges – settling lawsuits, failed mediation attempts and, ultimately, my decision to file for Chapter 11 financial protection in 2011.
However, there are things the archdiocese can be proud of. In the 1990s, the archdiocese was one of the first in the country to implement a formal response to abuse survivors, to hire staff to support their needs, and to publish a Code of Ethical Standards for church employees. The archdiocese has supported legislation to include clergy as mandatory reporters of abuse from the time a bill was first introduced in the mid-1990’s until it was eventually signed into law. Even before this legislation was passed, the archdiocese had its own policy requiring employees, including clergy, to report suspected child abuse to the proper civil authorities. Our policies and protocols ensure that all abuse allegations involving someone who is still alive are immediately reported to civil authorities. Safe environment education programs were developed and are now mandatory for children and youth in every parish and school. Criminal background checks and sexual abuse awareness training are required for every bishop, priest, deacon, staff member and volunteer who works with minors. Most importantly, no priest with a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor can in any way exercise public ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Another way we have addressed this crisis is to be open in sharing facts about what happened in the past, what we are doing today and what we pledge to do in the future.
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.
Bold, and the right thing to do. This is a real sign of reform and willingness to be held accountable. Good for you, Your Excellency, may the healing love of Jesus Christ blossom.
Mr. Berres with some good questions.