New archbishop gets down to business
With the pomp and circumstance associated with his installation out of the way, the Most Rev. Jerome Listecki now must get to work as archbishop of the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
Listecki will have his work cut out for him, as he faces a number of daunting challenges, namely dwindling enrollment in area parishes and Catholic schools, and the effects of the priest abuse scandal.
"If you took a poll, there are probably three things on a bishop's watch: schools, personnel and finances," Listecki said.
Few of those challenges, though, are as daunting as the clergy abuse scandal, which has rocked he area's Catholic community and threatens financial trouble for the archdiocese.
Listecki's record in handling accused priests has drawn fire from survivors' groups, like SNAP.
In 2004, 18 of 28 priests in the La Crosse Diocese accused of assaulting children were left in ministry. The 64 percent retention rate represents the highest clearance rate in the country. The national average is around 10 percent.
Eau Claire Police Chief Jerry Matyski penned an open letter to Listecki in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram last April, urging the diocese to change its abuse notification policy. At the time, all reports and investigations were handled internally, by a diocese-appointed panel.
Police were not notified or involved in the process.
Peter Isely, of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), points to a perceived double-standard. Listecki has come down hard in terms of moral teachings, saying it is wrong for anyone -- including rape victims -- to use emergency contraception. But when it comes to matters of possible clergy abuse, Isely says that there hasn't been the same sort of moral obligation.
"That contradiction will make it difficult to speak with the kind of moral clarity he's expressed that he wants," said Isely. "He has rules he wants to apply to everybody else but, in his own group, there is a different set of rules."
The group had attempted to engage in dialogue with Listecki but was rebuffed. Isely said Listecki later told him that he was not there when SNAP was barricaded from the La Crosse diocese headquarters.
Listecki wouldn't say whether or not he would meet with any victims' groups, but did admit the onus is on him to prevent the acts from happening again.
"We can't get away from it; it's a tragedy." he said. "I, as well as other bishops, publicly express our horror. We've been scripted by a few that have violated their trust.
"My job is to make sure that on my watch I do everything possible to make sure that never happens again. I can say that, but I'm going to be down on my knees praying that people are responsive."
Listecki comes to Milwaukee full of energy and enthusiasm for the job, but has also created his share of controversy during his time in La Crosse. He made headlines last year when Notre Dame University -- the flag-bearer of American Catholic universities -- awarded President Barack Obama an honorary law degree.
Listecki criticized the honor, citing the president's pro-choice stance. He also took House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to task over her beliefs regarding the beginnings of life.
The archbishop dispelled the notion that he is overly political.
"I was the first one shocked when I was labeled the political bishop," he said. "I don't have any pony in the show. I'm not supporting one individual candidate. My sense is, if its reported by anyone, something which is contrary to the church to be supported by the church, I have an obligation to speak out."
Listecki made it clear that he wants to win back followers. To do so, he hopes to "tell the story" about good things being done in the archdiocese, which represents some 640,000 Catholics.
"A lot of the data coming back says they've just grown apart from (church)," Listecki said. "They've stopped going to church, stopped participating in a religious community or parish and have kind of grown into that complacency in relationship to God."
He attributes that to the grown secular nature of society, an issue he addressed during his first homily.
"We need to acknowledge mystery and our dependence upon God," he told a standing-room-only crowd at St. John the Evangelist. "Adherence to the church's teachings is not always easy. However, one must sacrifice from the truth."
Expanding the reach of the area's Catholic schools is an important part of bringing people back to the faith. He expressed a desire for a greater scope of the city's school choice program.
"When a person sends a child to a Catholic school, they're taxed on one side and there's not even a credit, and they pay tuition," Listecki said. "Apart from my religious beliefs, there's a fairness question."
There are reasons, he says, for optimism. Listecki was impressed that the archdiocese's capital campaign has achieved nearly 85 percent of its $105 million goal. To accomplish that, in this economy, is a good sign.
"That says a lot about the confidence people have in their local church," he said.
For the challenges he faces and the criticism he's received, he has shown an openness to interfaith relations, celebrating Hanukkah with a Jewish congregation in La Crosse and also was the first from the diocese to meet with the Amish bishop.
Rabbi Shari Shamah, president of the Wisconsin Council of Rabbis, is looking forward to a good working relationship with the new archbishop. His predecessor, Timothy Dolan, was very interested in working with different faith communities in Milwaukee, she said, and is optimistic that Listecki will be, as well.
She attended the installation with members of other faith communities and asked Listecki if he'd be willing to come talk with her group in the future; a invitation Listecki told her interested him.
Working with members of other religions is especially important these days for any leader, as the country becomes more secular and faces growing social and economic issues.
"Jewish text teaches, 'he who is wise learns from everyone'," Shamah said. "Interfaith relations are important because we can understand each other, and discuss issues that unite rather than divide.
"We can supportive of one and other, and supportive of peace in the community."
I have read all of the blogs on this article. Let's face it people, the Archbishop says this, the Archbishop says that, blah, blah, blah. It is the same old stuff, just a different guy preaching to us. I was raised in the Catholic faith. I gave it up when the sex scandal was uncovered. I was not abused but I know several who were so consequently this is not an organized religion that I want to be part of. The bottom line in this church as well as any other is money and politics!!
Hey Milwaukee...This is New York, This "whole" Church thing needs to be gutted of the Cancer that has matastsized throughout the Institution ! I forgave my (Pastor)abuser, he was a very sick man. I want the others that covered up for him, that gave him "ALL" the support he needed, that got him the (Mickey Mouse) treatment that would undoubtedly give him a clean bill of health for another assignment of "Sexually Abusing" more Innocent Children. Those Bishops and priests will never be forgiven for their crimes against Humanity and I am fighting to hold them Accountable for the Evil they wrought upon Innocent Children and their families in the name of God and the Holy Apostolic Church. We have your previous Lost Shepherd leading the flocks here in NYC. Would someone please confirm and tell me where I can find news story of Bishop Timothy Dolan referring to Innocent Children (that were "Sexually Abused" by priests) as Prostitutes. He, as you may know, has taken the place of "Evil Egan". What a Circus the RCC has "Proven" to be. I think its a "Beauty" for "ALL" to see. Scandalized in NY
It's me again..... I am speaking to anyone who has been sexually abused, or who suspects abuse, or has witnessed abuse within this diocese or any place, to speak up and know that you are not alone. Do NOT let these folks who still choose to live in denial sway your decision to speak of your truth. You are the one who knows about truth, and keeping silent will do nothing. Silence only allows more kids to be abused, and nothing will ever change. Find your courage, you will be amazed when you realize that you do NOT need to carry around the pain which some supposedly holy lovable person did to you. IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT. You will be believed.. Judy Block Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511 snapnetwork.org
This is not a sad story, but rather the story of some of those who commented on this article are. Unfortunately for many of the "once practicing" Catholics who responded to this article, the faith, its teachings, the Truth are too much for them to handle. Truth never changes, it never slightly alters its circumstance or meaning to accommodate the popular. The abuse scandal was indeed a terrible thing to happen and I pray for all the victims that they may find peace and assurance. However I also pray that they may find the forgiveness and courage to reconnect with the Catholic Church. Looking at humanity, many awful things are done, we see and hear about them every night on the local news broadcastings, but yet those who commit the acts are the minority. We still find mankind to be good, helping, and the "majority" has the power to negate the bad that the "minority" has done. Those who have lost a loved one to a drunk driver, a murder, or anyone who has been a victim of a robbery indeed feels certain emotions towards the perpetrator which is natural. Do they then refuse to interact with all mankind, and believe that all mankind is the same as the perpetrator? I dont think so, and in many cases, when things like this happen, it unites people and makes the community stronger. What a very small number of religious clergy did, was and is wrong, but dont judge or hold grudge against the other priests, sisters, etc, who only strive to help people and their communities. Another point is that the Church indeed wont conform to the secular idea of allowing women priests. This does not mean the Catholic faith and Church doesn't believe in woman equality or look down on them in any way. The idea that the Church has some kind of inferior stance towards women is absurd. One of the most prominent and respected figures of the Church is indeed a woman!! As far as homosexuality, the Church does not look down upon or distance itself from the person. It does however resent the act of homosexuality. The Catholic faith is not a faith for the "weak." It is met with a lot of opposition, doubt, probing, and aggression from the secular world. Those who still practice their faith know that what they believe will never lead them astray, it is the Truth and the Way. If you have questions about why Catholics believe this or that, I urge you to contact a local priest so you can get the most forward answers.
So much work needs to be done. I pray that the New Archbishop take the time to listen to us as Survivors. There is no perfect Church. Trust is so fragile, and when it is broken it takes a long time to put it back together again. It is because this Trust was broken; many choose not to attend church. I have never placed the blame on God; my faith in God has become stronger over the years. My blame is on those who choose to ignore and push the abuse and the abusers aside. Archbishop Dolan did what he could in his time here, now we need to continue and take care of those who could not speak for themselves at the time. We need to make the perpetrators be held accountable.
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