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Milwaukee’s 11th archbishop named

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Former La Crosse archbishop takes on an archdiocese plagued by financial woes, cloudy history of clergy sex abuseArchbishopListecki

The Most Rev. Jerome Edward Listecki, who was named Milwaukee’s new archbishop Saturday, inherits an archdiocese with a history of clergy sexual abuse and financial uncertainties, among other problems.

Listecki becomes the 11th archbishop of Milwaukee, replacing the Most Rev. Timothy Dolan as head of the 10-county, 700,000-member archdiocese. Dolan was recently named the archbishop of New York.

A native of Chicago’s South Side, Listecki studied canon law and moral theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He’s also a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Listecki, 60, has been archbishop of La Crosse since 2005.

In a statement, Listecki said he was humbled by his selection by Pope Benedict XVI.

“Although I look forward to responding to the challenges presented by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I do regret leaving the Diocese of La Crosse, a diocese that I have grown to love and call home,” he said.

In a press conference, Listecki said he is comforted by the strong community in Milwaukee and looks forward to working with the bishops and priests, on whom his success relies.

Listecki takes a hard-line conservative stance on current national issues like abortion and the availability of health care to the elderly, and has been an active political commentator throughout his career.

Listecki’s critics claim he has not done enough for the prosecution of alleged sexual abuse by clergy. According to a list updated in 2007 on the archdiocese’s Web site during former Archbishop Dolan’s tenure, the Milwaukee Archdiocese has had 43 priests restricted from service because of substantiated reports of sexual abuse of a minor.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, an independent nonprofit organization, has been raising serious concerns about Listecki’s background with his dealing with sexual abuse since he became archbishop.

In a press release Saturday, SNAP claimed, “Of the 28 priests that the La Crosse Diocese says, as of 2004, were alleged to have assaulted children, 18 were left in ministry. That number represents the highest ‘clearance rate’ for priests accused of abuse in the United States.”

Listecki responds to such criticism by saying he is “serious” about sexual abuse and his office made the issue first priority when it arose.

Listecki is confident that he will effectively deal with the problem in Milwaukee.

“The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has done a wonderful job extending itself to (sexual abuse) victims. I will take a look at the situation and see if there are areas that need to be tweaked,” Listecki said

The Rev. Steven Avella, a priest and history professor at Marquette, said in an e-mail that he has every reason to believe Listecki has dealt with issues of clergy sex abuse effectively in the past, and that Listecki will “continue to build on the policies in place here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”

Avella said the main problem the archbishop will have to deal with is the declining number of Catholics in Wisconsin, part of a national trend.

In addition to the dropping numbers of Catholics he said, “more priests, as well as men who can work effectively with the growing Latino community are needed.”

The loss of churchgoers and the ongoing recession in Wisconsin play a major role in the financial problems facing the church.

Chief Finance Officer of the diocese John Marek said in an e-mail he “expects the financial situation has or is being faced in other dioceses as well.”

Marek said there is a balanced budget for the current fiscal year, though the funding is less than ideal because of the effect of the economy on parishioners’ ability to make donations.

Listecki said he will need to study the financial situation before he can make any judgments, but his approach will be the same as always, with an emphasis on evangelization.

“Bringing more people to the church starts with one investor at a time,” he said.

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