SNAP Responds: Vicar General of Milwaukee Archdiocese Assails Clergy Abuse Victims during Mass
By Peter Isely
June 11, 2012
In condescending, hurtful and, at best, deeply confused remarks announcing the removal this morning of Fr. John Schreiter as pastor of St. John Neumann's parish for reports of sexually abusing a minor, the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee attacked victims for their "antics" in coming forward and speaking publically about their abuse and expressing their concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability from church officials (read a transcript of Kohler's remarks or listen to the audio).
Fr. William Kohler, who is also the pastor of St. Leonard's in Muskego, was explaining why Schreiter—who Kohler clearly believes is innocent—had to unfortunately be removed from his post: "We will pay for it [if we don't remove Fr. Schreiter], we will pay in the court of public opinion, you know that the victims have lawyers and you know they are watching us. You watch television; you see the kinds of things they say about the church on the courthouse steps. You don't want that kind of antic to take place against you…"
The parishioners of St. John's Neumann's, however, are not on trial in the court of public opinion for raping, sexually assaulting and abusing children and then covering it up. In fact, it was parishioners of St. John's who alerted victim/survivors and advocates of Schreiter's removal and who were upset with Kohler's remarks. Kohler's paranoid presentation is a perfect illustration of why the archdiocese is in such deep trouble and has lost so much credibility.
Just this month, church officials were again caught deeply misleading Milwaukee Catholics and the public with the "smoking gun" document showing how former Archbishop Timothy Dolan was secretly giving payouts to sex offender clergy to quietly leave the priesthood, even though he publically and loudly denied doing so in 2006.
Kohler was not a wise choice for Listecki to send to St. John's today. In fact, Listecki should have been there, especially since he was in Milwaukee all day according to his schedule.
Kohler was dangerously biased in his remarks, which he clearly indicated were the official position of the Archdiocese. He let the congregation know how he attended seminary with Schreiter, who he characterized as "a very good, fun loving and dedicated priest." And, he was quite confident that the parishioners, after a "delay" of "hopefully" a month, would be joining Schreiter at a previously planned retirement party. Then Kohler shared what a "horror" this must be for Schreiter because he too is about to retire.
This is hardly language that's going to encourage victims of childhood sex crimes by clergy or anyone else to come forward.
Kohler also said that "if an accusation comes against a policeman, a coach, a teacher, anybody, they are immediately placed on administrative leave" so the church, too, has to follow such a policy. But that's not true either. Schreiter's report was filed months ago in court, along with dozens of other alleged offenders, and Schreiter is only the second priest to be put on administrative leave. That should not be too surprising, since all we really know about how Archbishop Listecki handles reports of child sex crimes by clergy comes from his abysmal record as Bishop of La Crosse, a diocese that cleared more reports of priests of sex abuse than any other in the entire country at six times the national average.
But perhaps most egregious of all about Kohler's remarks is that he did not tell the congregation that Schreiter had already been accused of sexual abuse in 2004 when he was removed from ministry and then reinstated by the archdiocese. Today's report does not appear to derive from the same alleged victim, so the 2004 investigation will likely be reopened. Parishioners are learning about the prior allegation from the media this evening because Kohler and Listecki didn't tell them. Why? Because bishops and senior managers of the church don't trust Catholics. And, with more and more victims and whistle blowers coming forward, church officials are, indeed, as Kohler said, being "watched" and will hopefully start behaving as society demands they do.
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We've been around for 23 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word "priest" in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Visit us at SNAPnetwork.org and SNAPwisconsin.com.