The introduction of new Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki seemed to offer hope for the Catholic archdiocese. The Chicago native and La Crosse bishop was described as an easygoing people person and a fine storyteller. Most importantly, he was the first Polish leader in a community that has long had a huge population of Polish Catholics.
That long-standing grievance got recurring cursory unsympathetic treatment in Archbishop Weakland's memoir.
But the shine has come off quickly. The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has charged that Listecki’s diocese of La Crosse has the highest percentage of priests cleared of child sexual abuse allegations of any Catholic diocese in the United States, six times the national average.
That frames the issue a bit oddly. If it's an extreme situation, I'd expect there'd be more information about specific cases from aggrieved complainants. No one, I assume, is advocating some euphemized quota.
When asked about this by Wisconsin Public Radio, Listecki replied that he didn’t have enough time left in his tenure to address the question, and besides, it was the holiday season.
Which makes sense substantively. He couldn't do a systemic review in his last month as Bishop, it makes sense for his successor to decide whether to review the process since he'll be the one presiding over it, and a Bishop is, presumably, busier than usual in his official capacity this time of year. From a public relations standpoint, though, he came across as if he was going to be too busy with shopping and Christmas lights. Looking ahead, we can expect either evidence that he's getting media training, or an end to interviews.
Next came the revelation that former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland had routinely shredded copies of weekly reports about sexual abuse by priests. He made this statement in formerly sealed testimony turned over to the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office last week. Weakland testified that he didn’t want to keep the documents in his office.
See Better shred than read.
The day after this bombshell hit, the archdiocese sent a memo with "talking points" to priests and parish directors saying that Weakland was shredding "copies of reports," not the originals. So he kept the originals around but just tore up the copies? That seems a little hard to believe.
The commenters to my just-referenced post note that if only copies were shredded this is not a case of destroying evidence. Mr. Murphy alludes to the residual point, that it seems desirable that the Archbishop would make provision to keep the copy at least until discussing it with the Vicar who prepared it. To get a copy to read, shred, and then try to remember seems mindlessly bureaucratic, at best.
Again, I hope that our Archdiocese didn't literally label this memo "talking points". But if not, then someone else, SNAP perhaps, got that pre-emptive spin put on it.
The never-ending clergy abuse crisis – and the nagging sense that the archdiocese never quite comes clean about it – has taken a toll.
I've heard that soon after his arrival Archbishop Dolan was urged to personally review all the abuse files, and I have not seen any report that he has. Archbishop Weakland testified that he did not discuss abuse cases with Archbishop Dolan, or with Archbishop Cousins for that matter. If there were good reasons for those decisions, I don't recall hearing them.
One sign I’ve reported before is that attendance at weekly Mass has dropped from 270,000 to 165,000 in about a decade. More bad news comes from a just-released annual statistical supplement to the Milwaukee Catholic Herald, which shows the total Catholic population dropped from 681,781 to 643,775.
See Milwaukee Catholics down 38,000 in 2009. I've long had the impression hardly anyone on the payroll cares.
Why these declines? "I’d be at a loss to comment on any specific reason," says archdiocesan spokeswoman Julie Wolf. "If you’re looking for me to say it’s due to the clergy abuse crisis, I don’t think I can say that. The Pew Research shows that all church attendance [at all denominations] is down."
I get responses like that at my parish, too. They'll respond that something is a widespread problem, which somehow means no one in any particular place should be trying to figure out what to do about it.
Even if the clergy abuse crisis hasn’t contributed to the decline in numbers, it certainly makes it harder for the archdiocese to recoup its losses.
Given the demographics, maybe our clergy and staff plan to ride the death spriral into retirement.