• Sara Larson

"We Priests and Bishops Haven’t Solved This": What Bishop Haines Said About the Abuse Crisis

The parishes of St. Robert and Holy Family hosted a Listening Session about the abuse crisis on Monday, April 8th. I am still working on summarizing the comments made by participants throughout the evening, but in the meantime, I wanted to share the closing remarks made by Bishop Jeff Haines, Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee, who was present as a listener throughout the evening. He delivered these unscripted thoughts in a low, somber tone, then closed the night with prayer. For a better sense of how this message was conveyed, you can also listen to the audio here, which I am sharing with Bishop Haines' permission.


“I want to thank all of you who were courageous in speaking, and also those of you who were maybe hurting too much to speak, but your presence here speaks very loudly. For those of you who shared the depth of your pain, your anger, your challenge, I thank you for that as well. We need to hear that. We really do, because it’s a sign of your love, of how much you care about our Church and our community. So, I take the challenges that I heard tonight in a very positive way. To me it’s a sign of your love. It shows how deeply you care - You care enough to speak very bold words. So, thank you for that. You’re really a sign of hope for me.

I also want to add words of apology tonight. I remember the first time having to say that, as the pastor of a parish where the founding priest was an abuser. So, I’ve had to say it many times, and I will continue to say it, because people need to hear that somebody does care. And I really do - not just about victim-survivors, who truly are heroes. Their courage, their bravery is changing our Church, and we need to cherish them and what they’ve done and what they continue to do.

But I also want to apologize to those of you who are not victim-survivors or even related to one, but are just simply good Catholics. You don’t deserve this. You should not have to be sitting here tonight, hearing this again and again and again and worrying about defending the faith that you love and really being let down by priests and, I think even worse, by bishops. I apologize as a bishop for how we’ve handled this. You deserve better than that, you really, really do. You didn’t do any of this stuff. We allowed it to happen, and unfortunately, you’re having to deal with it, and that’s not right. So, just know that I love you for your faithfulness to our Church, because I think you are the solution.

You know, we priests and bishops haven’t solved this. I was incensed come late summer and the fall at the USCCB meeting. That we wouldn’t move ahead on it was just so, so wrong. So, we shouldn’t have to be here, but I believe the good that’s coming out of this is you are being engaged by it all to say “No, we’ll do this.” I really believe that as you step up, primarily with the voices you spoke tonight and the power of public opinion (which is a lot stronger than people realize), that we can really make things happen. I really believe we do need to bring laity more engaged in leadership areas of our Church, especially on this issue, others as well, but especially on this one. My younger brother was a detective in the city of Waukesha. He was head of sensitive crimes. He did this for a living. I know how good laity are at this. And we need to ask for your help, and that is going to change things. It really will.

I do believe you’ll be seeing and hearing more. A lot of the questions that you’ve asked tonight, those answers are going to be made available to you. As I mentioned, the Archdiocese is redoing the way it communicates this, because these listening sessions are teaching us about what you want to know and to provide it to you how you can best understand it. A lot of the questions that you did ask tonight, they’re going to be answered.

I just want to deal with a couple of them, because they need to be said: When it was brought up about how we handle cases, we do hand them directly over to the police or to the district attorney now. All cases. We don’t investigate them. What does happen is that there is another investigation after the police do it. If the police said it doesn’t fit the statute of limitations, or we’ve had a couple of cases where priests have been not convicted by the courts, another investigation does happen. That is done by a Diocesan Review Board. They are trained lay people who do this, or have done this, for a living, and they do the investigating and they apprise the Archbishop about what he should do in those instances. So if you were to check the website of those who are no longer priests… That Review Board has standards higher than the civil courts, so a lot of those priests are no longer priests. So that’s at least a good thing that has come from the Dallas Charter. We can be better at it, that’s for sure.

I think one of things that we’re learning, in recent years, is we have to be diligent in upholding the Charter and of course applying it to us bishops as well. But also tireless in the way that we work at it, because the children are our greatest resource. It used to be that you brought them to the Church for protection and safety. So, we have to get on top of this. They are the greatest gift God has given to us.

I also want you to know that I do hear you. I listened intently. I know (the note-taker tonight). She’s got really great powers at recording things. She’ll get this information to us, and it will be a great resource for us. There are more listening sessions that we’re planning. Archbishop Listecki does attend them, as well as Bishop Schuerman.

(Sara's Note: The following words were offered in response to a question raised earlier in the evening.) Archbishop Listecki does meet with victim-survivors at their request. Usually the request is that it not be publicized. Most victim-survivors do not want it publicized, so it’s done privately in a very secure setting. We’ve had a couple instances (and this was under Archbishop Dolan as well) where they had a private meeting set up, somehow the word got out and so some newspapers, as well as some other groups, had showed up and the victim-survivor cancelled, because they wanted it to be a private thing.

I certainly ask for prayers for our Church and also for us bishops that we start to do better on this. We need the wisdom, the guidance. Keep speaking, keep communicating, keep showing your passion, because, like I said, that’s a sign of love to me. I appreciate all of you, especially the way you were all here tonight in a very beautiful and sacred manner.”


A Prayer for Our Church

(used by Bishop Haines at the end of the Listening Session)

Loving God, we stand before you, begging for mercy on your holy Church.

For the victims of abuse and their families, pour out your healing and your peace.

For the Bishops of this country, may their thinking and their actions manifest the mind of Christ

and guide them with your Spirit.

For the thousands of good and faithful priests, who have followed your call to serve you and your people in holiness, sustain them by your grace.

For the faithful who are angry, confused, and searching for answers, embrace them with your love.

We place our Church in your hands, for without you we can do nothing.

Grant this through Jesus Christ, our Lord.


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