On Monday, July 1, as part of its ongoing bankruptcy case, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will release thousands of pages of confidential documents regarding the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests.
Included in the documents will be personnel files of 42 priests. Also slated for release are depositions of Milwaukee’s former Archbishop Timothy Dolan, now leader of the New York Archdiocese; retired Archbishop Rembert Weakland; and retired Bishop Richard Sklb, as well as the deposition of Daniel Budzynski, a now-defrocked priest.
Archbishop Jerome Listecki warned of the graphic nature of the documents in his weekly letter to local Catholics. “Needless to say, there are some terrible things described in many of the documents,” he said. “Prepare to be shocked.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel offered a hint of what the documents will contain:
According to interviews and court records, the documents are expected to include: details about how church officials shuttled abusive priests from one parish or school to the next without divulging their histories; correspondence between the archdiocese and the Vatican, which has the final word on defrocking priests; evidence that the archdiocese under Dolan paid some priests to accept that decision without protest; and graphic accounts of sexual assault of young people.
The wisdom of releasing such shocking personal information has been questioned by some. Archbishop Listecki worried that dredging up abuse cases from the past and making the information available to the general public would be painful for the victims themselves.
But Jeffrey Anderson, attorney who has handled most of the 575 sex abuse claims against the Archdiocese, had demanded the release of the documents and called their release a victory for victims and survivors. “From the outset,” Anderson said, “what survivors have wanted most is to protect other kids. And the only way you can do that is to have full disclosure of what has been done in the past.”
The Milwaukee Archdiocese is the eighth Catholic diocese to file for Chapter 11 protection since the inception of the clergy sex abuse scandal. Under Chapter 11, the archdiocese hopes to minimize its liability in mounting sex abuse lawsuits, and retain sufficient assets to allow it to continue in its mission of serving the spiritual needs of Milwaukee’s 700,000 Catholics.
Archbishop Listecki first announced last April that the documents would be made public. On July 1, he will keep that promise by linking the documents on the Archdiocese’s website. The 6,000 pages show some of the following themes:
- Terrible things happened to innocent children.
- People were ill-equipped to respond — to victims and families, and to perpetrators.
- Church leaders and other professionals tried their best to deal with the issue given the knowledge available at the time.
- Reports of abuse were often not brought to the archdiocese or civil authorities until decades after they occurred.
- The archdiocese consistently showed care and concern for abuse survivors, and paid for therapy for individuals who were harmed.
- The incidents of abuse date back 25, 50, even 80 years.
- The majority of perpetrators were not known to the archdiocese until years after they committed the abuse.
- In the 1970s and 80s, priests were often removed from their parish for “medical reasons,” sent for counseling and, based upon a recommendation from their therapist or medical professional, reassigned to another parish.
- Twenty-two priests were reassigned to parish work after concerns about their behavior were known to the archdiocese.
- Eight of those 22 priests reoffended after being reassigned.
- 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 often received probation as a sentence and did not go to jail.
- People often reported concerns about a priest that were not instances of sexual abuse, but rather concerns about unusual or questionable behaviors, such as 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.
Archbishop Listecki, addressing his flock via his weekly blog, says:
These are not easy moments for the Church, but I am strengthened by the consistent promise of prayers and support from the people in the archdiocese. 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. 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.
More information about the release of documents can be found in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
You can read Archbishop Listecki’s letter to Milwaukee Catholics on the archdiocesan website.