By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Jan 05, 2010 at 4:19 PM

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."