Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
I have been on this planet long enough to observe that individuals are prone to make the same mistakes over and over again. Often, it’s not intentional, but there is definitely an element of negligence involved.
Last Tuesday, May 2, we gathered as a Church in the parish of St. Alphonsus in Greendale to celebrate the annual Mass of Atonement. This is the seventh Mass that we have offered as an archdiocese. We do so because we must never forget that the actions of a few have endangered our children and wounded the Body of Christ.
It’s apparent to me that, just as the children of the Old Testament failed in their responsibility to the covenant that they entered into with the Almighty, we also failed in our responsibility to the new covenant established through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And, just as the people of the Old Testament needed to seek forgiveness, do reparation and reestablish the covenant, we also need to seek forgiveness, attempt to repair the damage and reestablish our relationship with Christ. But, first and foremost, we must remember in order to keep before us our responsibility to those entrusted to our care.
Many can offer all sorts of rationalizations, excuses or claims of ignorance that led to the crisis we experienced as a Church, but it is a fact that we are held to the standard of the Gospel and, by that standard, we failed to hear the “cry of the poor,” no matter what justifications we attempted to offer. The chief reason we have failed is that we had forgotten God and our obligation to follow His commandments.
But, our God is a God of mercy, and through the sacrifice of His Son, gives us the path of reconciliation. Our prayer, however, must be followed by action. In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, we have established a Safe Environment Office under the direction of Patti Loehrer, who monitors the obligations of parishes and institutions to follow the guidelines created by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
We are a different Church today than we were 20 years ago. We have educated those working with our children to understand the problem of child sexual abuse, as well as the ability to recognize some of the signs from those who have been victimized. In addition, ethical standards inform those working with our young people about proper relationships and actions with the young. We have also posted information on our website concerning violations, and we audit our program every year.
In the last seven years, we have added the Mass of Atonement, as well as a Safe Environment Week, which highlights responsibilities and shares information about maintaining safe places. In addition, we have also encouraged our young students to take an active role in creatively expressing their understanding of our Safe Environment Week theme, and reward the best expressions of their work.
We continue to maintain a Community Advisory Board (CAB), comprised of professional lay men and women, religious and clergy, who meet on a regular basis to discuss and review policies and procedures in the implementation of safe environment protocols. Paying attention to established programs and protocols, as well as reminding ourselves of our accountability before God, will assist us in avoiding the mistakes of the past and creating a safer and more responsive Church that LOVES ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the May 9, 2017 "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.