Memo about Letter Published in the Milwaukee Catholic Herald

February 29, 2008

To: Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of Milwaukee and Publisher, Milwaukee Catholic Herald Brian T. Olszewski, Executive Editor, Milwaukee Catholic Herald
From: Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director
Re: Letter published 2-28 in the Milwaukee Catholic Herald

[Posted in Voice from the Desert]

A few weeks ago, with the court ordered release of documents detailing nearly 40 years of cover up of child sex abuse by officials of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, instead of calling for forgiveness, reconciliation and penance, you asked: “Do we hide in the corner while the scab of this mess is opened up once again?”

You were specifically referring to the public reporting of these documents in the media and their being posted for open access.

Your public relations gifts as a promotional expert for the Catholic Church are well-known. And, indeed, you have an unusual ability for a Catholic bishop to capture public attention. God has obviously blessed you with an abundant skill for public presentation and persuasion.

As the publisher of the Catholic Herald few of us expect that you are going to print stories or opinions that might present bishops and priests in a negative light, even if they have committed sex crimes against children, and even if church officials covered up those crimes. We don’t expect a diversity of opinion and discussion on this issue from you in the paper you operate.

But what we do expect is a minimum of decency and respect for children, especially abused children. And we absolutely demand that in your capacity as archbishop and publisher of the Herald that you will not print or propagate, or allow others to do so, ideas and opinions that attack, humiliate and blame children who are or have been sexually exploited, assaulted, or raped by clergy or any other adult.

That is why the tone of some remarks by you and your auxiliary bishop since the recent release of documents is disheartening. Blaming the media for crimes committed against children and their cover up by bishops, pointing to other sex offenders in other institutions who have evaded justice as a justification for why bishops should not be punished, and repeatedly suggesting that the problem of clerical abuse lives in the past although offenders like Fr. Backer are being dumped in unsuspecting communities today, is disappointing.

But what is beyond disappointment, what is truly shocking and unacceptable, is to allow letters like the one published Thursday in your newspaper which compare child victims of rape to prostitutes (“Time for Catholics to Fight Back”). The letter, which could only have been published because you or your editor vetted the content, asks: “Do they believe that anyone who provides sexual pleasure to another should be paid for the service? Isn’t that the definition of prostitution?”

Please appreciate that although we do not agree about the current legislation before Wisconsin lawmakers that would allow victims to file civil cases against bishops and clergy predators that does not mean you are now permitted to promote unchristian attitudes and actions that some Catholics might think are permissible to “defend” the archdiocese from further shame and scandal.

Do we really need to explain to you and your editor why it’s not OK to allow a letter to be published that promotes the idea that children who are being raped are “prostitutes” that “provide sexual pleasure” as a “service?”

How is this kind of incendiary and hateful speech going to encourage any victim of childhood sexual abuse to come forward and report the crime?

Not surprisingly, this is the exact attitude towards children as sexual objects that can be found in Fr. Franklyn Becker’s file, in many of his letters and comments made to church leaders. Fr. Becker, as your own church hired psychiatrist diagnosed, is a pedophile. Why would you publish for thousands of Catholics to read, with no editorial comment whatsoever, a sentence that would find the full consent of pedophile and give perverse comfort to child molesters by Becker?

But is it not enough that you have repeatedly refused to post church documents so that Catholics can turn to you, instead of the secular media, to find out exactly what the archdiocese knows about clerical pedophiles?

Another reason for you not to have published the letter is its blatant factual errors. The writer, James Radtke of West Allis, states that courts assess fines against the church, which they do not. He urges a fund to be set up so that lawyers can defend the archdiocese. He obviously does not know that Quarles and Brady attorneys have been paid millions of dollars by the church over the years to do just that.

We are asking you to publicly retract this letter, issue an apology, and start encouraging an environment of respect for child victims and respect for civil dialogue.

Peter Isely
SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)
Midwest Director


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