We have worked with the attorneys for abuse survivors who identified almost 6,000 pages of documents they believe should be made public and that best demonstrate how the archdiocese handled allegations of sexual abuse, responded to reports, and dealt with offending priests. Those are the documents that will be posted.
My hope in voluntarily making these documents public is that they will aid abuse survivors, families, and others in understanding the past, reviewing the present and allowing the Church in southeastern Wisconsin to continue moving forward. We can never tell abuse survivors enough how sorry we are for what they endured. My apology goes out to all who have been harmed and I continue to offer to meet with any individual abuse survivors who would find it helpful.
What we do today in responding to reports of abuse is different than in decades past but that fact does not erase the past. The documents present one part of the history of what happened and demonstrate how people tried to do their best with what they knew at the time. We may never have the complete picture because the records are not always clear and there is no way to delve more deeply because many of the people involved are dead or have had memories fade as 20, 30 or 40 years or more have passed.
But, we know that bad things happened to innocent children and youth. The arc of understanding sexual abuse of a minor progressed from being seen as a moral failing and sin that needed personal resolve and spiritual direction; to a psychological deficiency that required therapy and could be cured; to issues of addiction requiring more extensive therapy and restrictions on ministry; to recognition of the long-term effects of abuse and the need to hold the perpetrator accountable for this criminal activity.
Acknowledging our past means examining how the Church, especially its bishops and priests, dealt with this issue over the years. It includes facing up to mistakes that were made, even if some of those mistakes become apparent only in hindsight. It means demonstrating our resolve to make sure nothing like this can ever happen again. Today, I am confident that no organization in the world does more to combat sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic Church in the United States.
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