Ten Stories That Changed Our Lives: #7 Church Scandals

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In the last decade, the Catholic Church in Milwaukee - and in America - has gone through a series of challenges involving cases with allegations of sexual abuse and organizational cover-ups.

"I apologize to the faithful of the Archdiocese, which I love so much," said former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland as he admitted to a gay relationship which happened about 30 years ago.

But we didn't know about it for nearly 25 years.

"When it was announced that he had the relationship, it took me by surprise," said one Catholic among hundreds of thousands in Milwaukee affected by the move.

Ten Stories That Changed Our Lives: 
#7 Church Scandals | Audio
#8 Mark AttanasioAudio
#9: Brett Favre | Audio
#10: Katrina | Audio

Listen every morning through Friday, December 18th at 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. for the "Ten Stories That Changed Our Lives" this decade.

Locally, it started an unprecedented upheaval in Milwaukee's Catholic Church - the largest church denomination in Southeastern Wisconsin - with Weakland resigning and Archbishop Timothy Dolan taking over. He is now being replaced by incoming Archbishop Jerome Listecki.

Additionally, there are plenty of substantiated reports of priests who have sexually abused a minor, including 42 listed on the Archdiocesan web site and lots of others across America.

Throw that on top of lots of accusations of church cover-ups involving pedophelia by priest, both here and all over the U.S., and it's given many Catholics lots of reason for questioning.

"The cumulative effect of scandal and the bad things that have happened here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee have naturally demoralized and dispirited Catholics,:" said Fr. Steven Avella, a professor at Marquette University.

"Like any kind of scandal that involves those who are in authority positions of trust, something is weakened."

Many people have left the Catholic Church for that reason.

Still, according to Fr. Avella, it's what happens to the specific parish a person belongs to that matters more than the Archdiocese.

"That local dimension of Catholic life, that strong parish identification would, to some degree, balance off unpleasantness and unhappiness that came in the wake of scandal."

He also says there is an attitude of "love the Church, hate the sin of the church leader" among many Catholics.

"There is a very healthy ability to separate the institution and what it stands for from the flaws of the individual church."

Many people may give their faith to the Church, but are they giving their money to an Archdiocese that is paying out cash for settlements in abuse cases?

"There are victims now seeing that they're going to have to come forward and try any way to get into court," said Peter Isely of SNAP, the Survivor's Network of Those Abused by Priests.

"Americans vote with their pocketbooks," explained Fr. Avella.

"People will register their disapproval. People have said to me, 'I'm not giving to this. I'm not putting my money toward this. It will get wasted. It will go to something that I don't approve of.' That's a reality."

Across the country, some diocese are going bankrupt from payouts for sexual abuse and cover-up allegations.

So how does the Church respond, Milwaukee and nationwide to battle these challenges in the next decade?

To Fr. Avella, it's going to take a lot of transparency.

"Church men, church leaders in particular should be willing to stand forward, to answer questions, to respond to questions, to carry on civil discourse."