The Ark of Understanding

Archbishop of Milwaukee, Jerome Listecki, is arguing the Hierarchy’s choices to protect priests first and children second should be viewed under the arc of understanding.

 “The arc of understanding sexual abuse of a minor progressed from being seen as a moral failing and sin that needed personal resolve and spiritual direction; to a psychological deficiency that required therapy and could be cured; to issues of addiction requiring more extensive therapy and restrictions on ministry; to recognition of the long-term effects of abuse and the need to hold the perpetrator accountable for this criminal activity.”

When you look at the history of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee you see an Ark filled with understanding regarding the causes, identification and suppression of the scandal of childhood sexual abuse by the clergy.

Here are a few highlights to consider.

1939 – Father Clement Hageman is admitted to the Alexian Brothers Hospital “to do penance, and give proof of his sincerity to do penance for that which I was forced to dismiss him from the Diocese.”

1947 – The Bishops open the Saint John Vianney Institute in the East and the Servants of the Paraclete in the West to care for problem priests.

1952 – Father Gerald Fitzgerald sP, founder of the Servants of the Paraclete, flew to Rome for a personal audience with Pope Pius XII.

1962 – Father Gerald Fitzgerald sP tells Pope John XXIII on April 11th,   “On the other hand, when a priest has fallen into repeated sins which are considered, generally speaking, as abnormal (abuse of nature) such as homosexuality and most especially abuse of children, we feel strongly that such unfortunate priests should be given the alternative of a retired life within the protection of monastery walls or complete laicization.”

1973 – Father Siegfried Widera is convicted.

1974 – Lawrence Murphy “resigns” from Saint John’s School for the Deaf.
1980 – The Bishops open the Saint Luke Institute.

1983 – Father Franklin Becker deemed an impulsive pedophile.

1988 – Father James Arimond is removed, arrested and pleads no contest.

1992 – Reverend Canice Connors, OFM, told the Milwaukee Journal “The Catholic Church in North America possesses the greatest data bank of evaluation and treatment of non-incarcerated pedophiles on the continent.  That data should be analyzed scientifically and shared with others studying the problem.”  

1993 – Father William J Effinger is convicted.
The Ark of Understanding is a boatload of information gathered over the years by the Catholic Heirarchy.  What is clearly not in the Ark, as illustrated by Listecki’s comments, is concern for children.  As evidenced above, for nearly a century, children have been left outside the Ark defenseless and drowning under secrecy and shame.

Jeff Anderson is an attorney and advocate working with survivors of clergy sexual abuse at Jeff Anderson & Associates.