|Two Milwaukee Priests Removed from Ministry for Credible Reports of Child Sex Abuse
By John Pilmaier
Voice from the Desert
February 28, 2011
Today it has been confirmed by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that two priests have been removed from ministry for credible reports of child sexual assault (.http://www.jsonline.com/features/religion/116994328.html).
The first priest is Fr. Laurin Wenig, pastor of St. Mary's Visitation in Elm Grove. The second has not been named by the archbishop, but he is a priest that was in ministry somewhere in the archdiocese, but officially listed as "retired." By not releasing his name and the details of his offense or offenses, the archdiocese puts every "retired" priest under unwarranted suspicion.
Astonishingly, not only was Archbishop Jerome Listecki not in attendance at St. Mary's today to make the devastating announcement himself to parishioners, he allowed Wenig to distribute a letter denying the allegations. Listecki gave no explanation to baffled parishioners of the policies and procedures of an investigation, and personally explain and take full responsibility for the drastic step of officially and publically removing Wenig from ministry.
So much for the newly humbled archbishop, who has come to the federal court asking for bankruptcy protection, saying that the archdiocese deserves such protection because of his commitment to transparency and accountability.
Listecki commands a vast and expensive communications network, consisting of several hired spokespersons, a newspaper, a local television and radio show, websites, hundreds of parishes with weekly bulletins and pulpits. If Listecki were truly committed to openness and transparency concerning reports of child sexual abuse he has more than enough communication outlets at his disposal to make that happen. Instead Listecki has decided to maintain the system of secrecy or confusion, which has become a permanent intractable fixture of this archdiocese, whenever reports of sexual abuse by priests arise.
Instead, Listecki allowed Wenig to misleadingly suggest in his letter that any priest with an allegation of abuse is automatically removed from ministry under archdiocesan procedures. That is false. There are many diocesan and religious order priests who have allegations of child sex abuse who are most certainly not removed from ministry or publically identified. For example, in a Fall 2003 report, the archdiocese confirmed that at least 10 diocesan priests had "unsubstantiated" allegations in their files and were not named and had been left in ministry (http://www.archmil.org/ArchMil/Resources/2003CSAAccountability.pdf). There has been no update to this report since, although the number of victims that have reported to the archdiocese since then has soared.
Because the criminal statute of limitations on child sex crimes in Wisconsin have been so predator friendly, it is not likely that either priest can be charged by the District Attorney. For many of these crimes, the reporting statute has been a laughable six years. In other words, if you were raped or sexually assaulted as a five year old child, you have until you are 11 years old to "report" the crime to the police. Fortunately, the statutes have been extended over the past several years, largely due to the growing public awareness and alarm over child predators, but most predators have been able to use the arbitrary time limits to escape imprisonment. Just to show the extent of the problem, according to a recent investigation by Human Rights Watch, almost 90 percent of all sex offenders in the United States have not been reported to law enforcement or identified to the public.
Regardless of the criminal statute, removing a teacher or a therapist or a priest from his job and taking away his license to practice does not and never should depend upon when the offense occurred, as long as it can be proven to a licensing board that the crime did occur. All credentialed occupations operate this way in civil society. It remains an utter mystery why the priesthood does not regulate itself the same way.
With today's news, the number of priests likely to have assaulted children over the past decades in the Milwaukee archdiocese—including religious order clergy such as Jesuits and Franciscans assigned by the archbishop to parishes and schools—to nearly 80. The number of priests with allegations that have not been confirmed officially by the archdiocese or religious order superiors is considerably higher.
It is likely that new victims are now coming forward to report, in part, because the archdiocese is seeking federal bankruptcy protection for covering up for abusive priests. Now that the federal court, and the current Milwaukee DA, have clearly shown a willingness to aggressively scrutinize archdiocesan behavior concerning child molesters, victims may be encouraged that finally authorities outside the church hierarchy and secret bureaucracy are going to investigate their claims fairly and impartially.
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