Documents show misunderstanding of effects of abuse, curability of offenders
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki has released almost 6,000 pages of documents related to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s handling of sex abuse cases, saying the documents will help the Church face up to mistakes and prevent abuse.
“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,” Archbishop Listecki said.
“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.”
He said the documents show “how people tried to do their best with what they knew at the time.”
He also said the documents describe “some terrible things” and include some graphic descriptions that require spiritual preparation to read.
The documents, released July 1, involve portions of personnel files for 42 of the 45 priests credibly accused of sex abuse whose cases are involved in the archdiocese’s bankruptcy, which began in January 2011.
The documents include the depositions of former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who now heads the Archdiocese of New York as a cardinal; retired Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland; retired auxiliary bishop Richard Sklba; and the laicized priest Daniel Budzynski.
Documents include those for offending priests like Father Lawrence Murphy, who may have molested as many as 200 boys at a school for the deaf, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. The files have victims’ names and other identifying information redacted.
Cardinal Dolan said July 1 that he welcomed the release of the documents. He criticized the repetition of “old and discredited attacks,” such as the claim he paid abusive priests to apply for laicization. He said these payments were part of his duty to provide basic support for priests until they leave the priesthood.
He also rejected claims that the transfer of $57 million in archdiocesan funds to a perpetual care fund for cemeteries was an effort to deny funds to victims, saying the funds had been legally designated for the cemeteries.
Archbishop Listecki noted some examples in the documents that show how society has changed: some parents of victims wanted the bishop to know about an abusive priest’s behavior, but did not want police involved. Doctors and therapists at the time believed abuse had no long-lasting impact.
He added that sexual abuse of a minor was first seen as a moral failing and sin that needed personal direction, then as a curable “psychological deficiency” that needed therapy, then as an addiction, then as criminal activity.
The archdiocese reassigned 22 priests to parish work after the archdiocese knew of “concerns about their behavior,” the archbishop said. Of these, eight are known to have reoffended.
Many of the documented abuse incidents date back decades and were not reported to the archdiocese or civil authorities until years after the abuse. Priests who were prosecuted often did not go to jail.
“It is easy to question decisions of the past with the insight of today, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s that the Church and society began to better understand this topic,” Archbishop Listecki said.
Formal outreach to survivors and response to abusive priests only began to emerge in the 1990s, he said.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee entered bankruptcy three years ago to allow the archdiocese to continue to operate while also paying some of the claims of abuse plaintiffs. There are 575 plaintiffs involved in the bankruptcy, mainly represented by Jeffrey Anderson.
“Our hope is that the publication of these documents can help bring this chapter of our history to a close and allow us to continue to focus on our desire to work with abuse survivors, and to focus on education and prevention,” Archbishop Listecki said. “We pray for those who are abuse survivors and pledge our continued support for those who have been harmed, following the Lord’s command to love one another.”
Cardinal Dolan, who is president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said sexual abuse of minors is “a crime” and “a sin.”
“The Church must remain rigorous in our response when an allegation of abuse is received, and ever-vigilant in maintaining our safeguards to do all that we can to see that children are protected,” he said.
“It is my hope that the release of these documents will also help to show how the Catholic Church in the United States has become a leader in dealing with the society-wide scourge of sexual abuse, and help other groups and organizations who are also seeking combat this evil.”