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2019 - Clergy Abuse Q&A

How has the Archdiocese of Milwaukee responded to issues of clergy sexual abuse of minors?

From 1985 to 1995, most major religious organizations established policies on sexual misconduct that included codes of ethics, polices on reporting and procedures for responding to sexual abuse by ministers.  The formal archdiocesan response began in 1989.  In 2002, a commission was formed to establish policies and procedures for handling sexual abuse allegations.  When the US Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002, the archdiocese immediately implemented the demands called for in the Charter, including zero tolerance for perpetrators.   An annual, external audit assures ongoing compliance each year.  The archdiocese requires reading and signing a Code of Ethical Standards by priests and deacons, as well as church workers and volunteers since its development in 1994.  All priests, deacons, parish staff and volunteers working with children are subject to a criminal background check every five years. They also must complete Safe Environment education.

How do I report an incident of clergy sexual abuse of a minor?

If you or someone you know is being abused, or you suspect abuse is occurring, contact your local law enforcement agency immediately. Any instance of abuse involving a person currently under 18 years of age (minor) should immediately be reported to the civil authorities. Locate the civil authorities in the 10 counties of the archdiocese.

If you or someone you know was abused as a minor by clergy or church personnel, call your local police, sheriff or district attorney’s office to file a criminal report.

Reports can also be made to the Victim Assistance Coordinator who is available to support abuse survivors.  A formal complaint of sexual abuse of a minor can be made to the archdiocese by calling the Victim Assistance Coordinator at 414-758-2232. 

An alternative way to make a formal report for those not wanting to contact the archdiocese is available to you 24 hours a day/7 days a week through the Healing Center website or by calling 414-219-5555.

How is a report against a priest substantiated?

Any allegation of sexual abuse of a minor made against a priest or deacon is immediately reported to civil authorities if the accused is still alive.  If law enforcement is unable to pursue criminal charges, the archdiocese hires an investigator (usually a retired police detective) to conduct an independent investigation.  During an investigation, the priest or deacon is fully restricted from ministry. The detective’s report and conclusion are given to the Diocesan Review Board for review and deliberation.  Using a standard or “more likely than not” to have happened (51%-49%), the Review Board makes its recommendation to the Archbishop regarding whether the allegation should be considered substantiated.  The archbishop has made the commitment to follow the Review Board’s recommendation.  If the board recommends substantiation, the case is referred to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith for canon law processes to be undertaken. Once proven guilty, the priest/deacon is permanently removed from ministry; his name is added to the list of priest offenders on the archdiocesan website.

What should I do if I am aware of a priest’s misconduct with adults?

If you have knowledge of behavior that could constitute a crime, you should call your local police or sheriff’s office.  If you have first-hand information, you can report your concern to the Fr. Nathan Reesman, Vicar for Clergy at or 414-769-3490.

How are perpetrators held accountable?

No priest with a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor can or will ever serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  In addition, the names of all priests with substantiated cases are listed on the archdiocesan website.  Priests who are fully restricted from ministry cannot function as a priest in any way; cannot publicly celebrate the sacraments; or present themselves as priests.  They receive no financial support.  Priests who are laicized after a canon law process are no longer members of the clergy.

Why aren’t more priest perpetrators in jail?

In many cases, reports of abuse did not become public until well after the statute of limitations expired, which prevented civil authorities from prosecuting those cases.  There were, however, some instances where priests were convicted of crimes and sent to jail. 

Why were offending priests able to work in many different parishes?

In the majority of cases, reports of a priest committing acts of sexual abuse of a minor were received long after the abuse had occurred.  In the meantime, these priests were transferred in the normal course of pastoral assignments.  However, in some cases, bishops did know of a priest’s history.  In those cases, the priest was sent for treatment and/or psychological analysis and, in some cases, was eventually given a new ministry assignment.  Often, the Church relied heavily on the recommendations of therapists working with priests.  Decades ago, it was commonly believed that this sinful behavior could be overcome.  Today, we know better. 

What is the archdiocese doing to help people who were abused?

When an abuse survivor comes forward, the most important thing the Church can do is to believe them, listen to their story, and acknowledge the abuse they experienced.  The archdiocese offers to provide counseling referrals and pay for therapy.

Why should I believe things are any different today?

We understand that the failures of Church leaders has broken trust.  We are deeply sorry for the hurt caused to so many.  We understand that it is difficult sometimes to believe things are different today, but we are a different Church because of the courage of abuse survivors to come forward.  In an effort to rebuild trust, one thing we can do is share what has been done in the past and what we continue to do today to address and prevent future abuse.

Since 2002, the archdiocese has posted the names of every priest-offender on its website.  It has released more than 60,000 pages of documents related to clergy sexual abuse in court proceedings.  Information on priest offenders, their ministry assignments, documents related to their abuse and a chronology of the abuse are on the archdiocesan website.  Priest files have undergone extensive review by the district attorney, outside forensic reviewers, by diocesan staff and by attorneys for abuse survivors. 

In addition, safe environment initiatives have been established.  More than 85,000 people have undergone safe environment training.  Any priest, deacon, bishop, parish staff member, diocesan staff member and volunteer who work with children have undergone safe environment education; have been subject to a criminal background check; and have read and signed the Ethical Code of Conduct for Church Leaders. 

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has established policies for responding to allegations of clergy sexual abuse, and has established an oversight board with lay professionals.  The archdiocese has provided therapy and counseling for abuse survivors, and has paid more than $50 million in financial settlements.

To demonstrate our desire for restoring trust, we renew our commitment of care and concern for those who have been survivors of clergy sexual abuse of a minor.  We apologize to those who have been hurt by these priest-perpetrators, and by the Church’s inability to adequately respond.  We apologize for any of our own actions that have been a detriment to healing.

Why aren’t the names of religious order priests on your website?

When the names of offenders were posted, the decision was made to include the names of those priests and deacons directly accountable to the archbishop of Milwaukee.  Religious order priests are accountable to their provincial superior.  The archdiocese does not have complete personnel records or files on religious order priests, and is not able to substantiate claims against them. 

A statement in the media said there are still 100 priest offenders that have yet to be named and no one knows who they are.

The names of every accused priest, alive or thought to be alive, has been shared with law enforcement, namely the District Attorneys of the various counties in southeastern Wisconsin, where abuse allegations originated.  There are no names kept secret or sealed that haven’t been made known to law enforcement.  The majority of the priests named in claims were already known to the archdiocese or were dead.

In addition, Judge Susan Kelley, who presided over the archdiocese’s bankruptcy proceeding, read every claim filed in the bankruptcy.  In court, on the record, Judge Kelley stated she had reviewed every claim and found no reason to believe that any public safety concern is present. 

There have been accusations that have not been substantiated.  These names are known to the District Attorney and, in consultation with the District Attorney, it was determined that the posting of names of individuals accused but not substantiated is not just. 

What about things that are happening in other dioceses across the country?

Because we are the one body of Christ, when something happens in the Church elsewhere in the country, the pain is also felt here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  While our hearts ache each time we hear these reports, it sometimes helps to learn many of the reports are from behavior years ago and not new reports of abuse happening today.  We also find consolation in knowing our archdiocese has taken action in responding to abuse survivors and holding perpetrators accountable.  We want to do everything we can to assure that no one suffers from abuse again and that no past abuse is covered up. 

Shouldn’t the archdiocese apologize?

Recently, Archbishop Jerome Listecki renewed his commitment of care and concern for those who have been survivors of clergy sexual abuse of a minor, saying:  “I apologize to those who have been hurt by these priest-perpetrators, and by the Church’s inability to adequately respond.  I apologize for any of my own actions that have been a detriment to healing.”

Yes, we are sorry for the pain and experience of abuse survivors and how it has impacted them, their families and their life.  We are sorry for the decisions made that caused further hurt and harm.  We are sorry for the pain this has caused so many people.  We are sorry for the challenge it has presented for people’s faith.  We are sorry for the many good priests who have been held under a cloud of suspicion. 

Are there allegations today about priests in the archdiocese?

Since 2002, we have had two allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest where the person was currently a minor.  In each case, the allegation was reported to civil authorities and the priest was removed from ministry pending resolution of the allegation.  In one case, the priest was convicted and sentenced through the court system and then laicized.  In the other case, the district attorney has charged the priest and the case is progressing through the legal system for resolution.  While the case is pending, the priest cannot function publicly as a priest in any way.

How do we assure the safety of seminarians from any predatory behavior?

Seminarians have been talked with multiple times regarding what to do if they feel they have been assaulted, propositioned or touched inappropriately.  We are in process of developing a system for a seminarian to file a report of inappropriate behavior through an external, independent reporting mechanism. 

How does the seminary form men to lead a chaste, celibate lifestyle as a priest?

Before a man can even apply to the seminary, an extensive and rigorous screening process is conducted.  Once a man applies for admission to the seminary program, the process continues with background and reference checks, psychological testing, review by an admissions board (which includes lay men and women).  Once accepted, the seminary formation program includes formation each year in chastity, celibacy, maturity, human sexuality and other related human formation topics.  There are regular meetings with spiritual directors, monitoring of social media and internet usage, and annual formation evaluations.  Seminarians are required to complete Safe Environment Education training, which includes child abuse prevention and mandatory reporting training.

Are donations used to fund our response to clergy sexual abuse?

The archdiocese receives money from three main sources, the Catholic Stewardship Appeal, the parish assessment tax and grants/gifts.  Donations to the Catholic Stewardship Appeal are restricted to the ministries outlined in the Appeal materials and are not used for outreach to abuse survivors or to settle legal claims. 

Income from parish assessments fund various office operations, including our safe environment office and related programming, and compliance items.  The bulk of this programming is proactive initiatives such as safe environment training and materials.

Monies for therapy for abuse survivors was set aside in a Therapy Fund at the conclusion of the archdiocesan bankruptcy proceeding.  Financial settlements for abuse survivors in the bankruptcy proceeding were funded through various sources, including insurance, loans and the sale of property.

How are bishops held accountable?

Archbishop Jerome Listecki has commissioned development of a process that would provide an avenue for individuals to report any misconduct by bishops, including areas where bishops are not honoring their commitments in responding to clergy sexual abuse or are not complying with safe environment expectations. 

Contact Information

Name:Jerry Topczewski
Abuse Response
Safe Environment
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