Statement on Archbishop Listecki’s Attempt to Punish and Silence Father Connell


March 24, 2023

By Terence McKiernan

Archbishop Jerome Listecki’s attempt to silence Father James Connell and deprive him of his ministry to hear confessions is a disgrace.  Father Connell has been an important voice urging everyone to understand the complex history of confession and the care that must be taken with this powerful sacrament, lest it be used to facilitate sexual abuse.  By trying to silence Father Connell, Archbishop Listecki is showing that he is ignorant of the history and careless about the danger.

Father Connell is a church lawyer with deep knowledge and experience with confession.  In fact, when a Milwaukee priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, used confession repeatedly to find potential victims and sexually assault them, sometimes during confession, Father Connell was selected to investigate the case.  This was the worst case of confessional abuse in Milwaukee, and one of the worst known cases in the history of Catholicism – and Father Connell was picked to determine the facts.  He confirmed that there were many victims of Murphy’s confessional abuse, as shown by this letter to Cardinal Ratzinger.

Unfortunately, Archbishop Listecki’s action and statement are in keeping with an earlier preference in Milwaukee for silence about confessional abuse.  For example, in the mid-1950s, Archbishop Albert G. Meyer was informed that Father Murphy was using confession to abuse boys at the school for the deaf that he ran.  Meyer ignored the whistleblower, Father David Walsh CSsR, and Murphy was allowed to continue for 20 years using confession to abuse deaf children.

Now Archbishop Listecki is ignoring another whistleblower and attempting to silence him.

Instead, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops must open a serious dialogue about confessional abuse.  Many children have been abused in the confessional, and abusive priests often use the sacrament to identify and groom their victims.  Priests sometimes violate the seal to share information about victims with other clergy, even with the perpetrators themselves.  Offending priests confess their abuse to priest colleagues, and the church must give its priests guidance for hearing those confessions and using the power of absolution to stop abuse and encourage self-reporting.  If the church will not take confessional crimes seriously, and persecutes priests who do take them seriously, it must not be surprised if state legislatures step in to protect children.