Saturday, November 14, 2009

Listecki named Milwaukee Archbishop

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Seven months after Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan left for New York, the Vatican on Saturday announced his successor, naming Bishop Jerome Edward Listecki of La Crosse as the new spiritual leader of Southeastern Wisconsin's nearly 700,000 Catholics.

Listecki, 60, will be installed as the Milwaukee Archbishop in early January.

The new archbishop drew laughter and warm applause in his first public appearance today, a news conference attended by priests, seminaries, church staff and friends, at the archdiocese's St. Francis Seminary.

He voiced gratitude and humility for the appointment; asked clergy and church and lay communities to join him in collaboration; and asked forgiveness for mistakes he may make in the transition.

"I pray that God gives me the strength to be a good Archbishop that I might earn your love and respect," he said.

That went a long way with priests in the room, some of whom had joined him for breakfast and Mass earlier in the morning.

"What struck me was a willingness to work with us," said Marquette history professor Steve Avella, noting that Dolan had amassed a reservoir of goodwill because of his attention to the concerns and lives of Milwaukee's priests.

"If he really means that he will find a very warm reception here."

As Archbishop, Listecki said he would emphasize Catholic identity, evangelism and stewardship of the church's resources - and root for the Packers, except when they play the Bears.

"We lost Babe Ruth but we got Hank Aaron," said Milwaukee attorney Gerald Boyle, a longtime friend of Listecki's, who attended the announcement with his family.

"How proud we are; how proud we are," he told Listecki who came over to hug them even before taking the podium.

Before his official remarks, Listecki called for a moment of silence for Melodie Wilson, the longtime television journalist who died of cancer last week and was being buried Saturday. He lead the assembled group in prayer, his eyes appearing teary, as he lifted his head and moved on.

A south-side Chicago native and retired military man, Listecki has been described as "Dolanesque" in his dealings with parishioners - an engaging storyteller who mingles well at baptisms and confirmations.

But unlike Dolan during his tenure in Milwaukee, Listecki has been more inclined to wade into the political fray, admonishing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her misstatement on Catholic teachings on the beginnings of life and criticizing the University of Notre Dame's decision to honor Barack Obama earlier this year.

That will likely draw mixed reactions in Milwaukee, as it has in La Crosse. Priests in both dioceses, asking not to be identified, said they found that troubling. Another, in the Milwaukee Archdiocese, said it's what he hopes for in a bishop.

"I applaud that," said Father John Yockey of St. Jerome Parish in Oconomowoc. "I loved Archbishop Dolan, but I wished he would have been more assertive in doing exactly that."

He is not likely to sit well with progressives and reformists, said Ray Stroik, a retired professor and college administrator who spent years on the La Crosse diocese's justice and peace commission before it was, he said, disbanded.

"He's very strong in terms of catholic identity, basic issues of pro life, gay marriage, stem cell research," said Stroik. "Yet not doing much on social justice, or global peace."

Listecki, who testified before a Wisconsin legislative committee last month, arguing against a bill that would make it easier for clergy sex abuse victims to sue their perpetrators, is a civil and canon lawyer, a moral theologian and a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves.

He has been Bishop of La Crosse since 2005, where he succeeded the outspoken and controversial Raymond Burke, who now sits on the Vatican board that recommends Bishop appointments to Pope Benedict XVI.

The move from La Crosse will be a significant shift for Listecki - from a 19-county, mostly rural diocese of 202,000 Catholics to a 10-county, mostly urban archdiocese more than three times the size. He's no stranger to the big city, though, having served as an auxiliary bishop in Chicago.

He faces significant challenges ahead. The archdiocese is midway through a $105 million capital campaign in a sluggish economy that could make that target difficult to reach, and there are also numerous clergy sex abuse lawsuits that threaten to bankrupt the archdiocese.

The victim advocacy group Survivors Network of Those abused by Priests raised concerns about his track record on the issue, saying Listecki's jurisdiction "boasts the highest percentage rate of siding with the priest and against the alleged victim reporting the abuse of any diocese in the United States."

After the Saturday news conference, SNAP said it would be contacting the archdiocese in an effort to meet with Listecki.

According to the La Crosse Tribune, Listecki launched a $50 million capital campaign, the diocese's largest ever, and developed a plan to address the growing priest shortage that would allow the diocese to cut its number of parishes from 165 to 75 without shuttering any churches.

The Milwaukee Archdiocese said he also led the effort in La Crosse to computerize all 165 parishes and raised more than a half-million dollars in Gulf Coast flood relief while also assisting in relief for local flooding. Milwaukee Journal Sentinal


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