New Steps for Clergy-Abuse Claims
Ex-Officers to Investigate; Mediation More Independent

By Tom Heinen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [Milwaukee WI]
January 29, 2004

Three former Milwaukee police detectives will investigate claims of sexual abuse of minors by clergy under a new, more independent mediation process the Milwaukee Archdiocese and a Marquette University professor unveiled Thursday.

The announcement began a three-month period for victims to come forward and launched an eight-week campaign to publicize the effort through parish and school announcements, and ads in print and broadcast media in the 10-county archdiocese.

Victims can seek mediation after the period ends, said Eva Soeka, the MU professor, but she hopes as many as possible will enter now.

"The idea is to get a handle on the numbers of cases that may exist," said Soeka, whom Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan appointed to design a system after few victims entered the church's previous pastoral mediation. "And right now, we have no way of knowing that."

Designed for church-wary people, the process will attempt to provide "healing, restoration, and closure" through steps that include:

A trained, neutral intake worker handling first-contact calls at a private office not affiliated with the church.

That coordinator is Christine Harris Taylor, a lawyer and mediator. She works a few hours a week as assistant director of the graduate program at Marquette University's Center for Dispute Resolution Education, which Soeka directs.

An option to choose one of three former detectives - or a different, mutually agreed upon investigator - to substantiate the abuse. They are Robert Beyer, Janine Brown and Gregory Nowakowski.

An option to choose one of three professional mediators, or a different, mutually agreed upon mediator. They are Narciso Aleman, Howard Bellman and Sherwood Malamud.

To maintain confidentiality, copies of agreements won't be kept in any archdiocesan office, only by the intake coordinator attorneys.

The process calls for investigators to issue decisions within 30 days of receiving a file and for mediation to begin within 21 days of selecting a mediator.

Dolan issued a statement Thursday, saying mediation offered self-determination, creativity, dignity, flexibility and control.

"The process attempts to span the chasm that has grown steadily wider between those victims/survivors and the Catholic Church . . .," the statement reads in part. "There are no satisfactory answers, only sincere attempts to do the right thing . . .

"I want to be very clear: this system is not a panacea. It is fluid, a work in progress. We will be listening very carefully to the reaction of early users of the system in order to improve it for the future . . . "

One area of uncertainty involves sorting out legitimate, false and undetermined claims. Soeka did not know what would be done if an investigator's report was inconclusive because, say, incidents happened 35 years ago and everyone with knowledge of them is dead.

She also said it was unclear what appeal process a victim might have.

"My understanding has been in the past, when there really is a dearth of testimony or witnesses that would substantiate the claim, the archdiocesan officials such as the chancellor have erred on the side of being inclusive," Soeka said. "Now, I would assume that would continue."

Peter Isely, regional director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said about 60 victims going through a separate group mediation process with the archdiocese had some input in creating the new process. The group is also discussing the need for an appeal process, said Isely, and their strong desire to make the names of perpetrators public.

"Doctor Soeka is to be thanked and congratulated for the amount of care and time she has put into it," Isely said. "It's based upon models that are used elsewhere. There aren't special things in here because it's the church, and that's a good thing."

Archdiocesan Chancellor Barbara Anne Cusack said the archdiocese's system for handling complaints would continue: an independent adjudicator to substantiate claims of victims who do not want mediation and a lay review board to make recommendations to Dolan on a priest's fitness for ministry.

People sexually abused as minors by Roman Catholic clergy in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee can make a report or get information confidentially through April 30 at (414) 302-9215 or (866) 302-9215, or by faxing to (414) 258-2461. The telephone lines are TTY accessible. Interpreters will be provided for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Although all victims are invited to contact Taylor, the mediation process covers victims of diocesan priests. It is undetermined whether it will handle victims of abuse by religious order priests, nuns and religious brothers, Soeka said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.