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Weakland Calls Priests to Meet

Apr 22, 2002 | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland on Monday summoned all of the 10-county diocese's priests and parish directors for a special meeting Wednesday on priest sexual abuse.

The meeting was called on short notice despite the fact that Weakland's next semiannual gathering with the priests is scheduled for early next month. Wednesday's gathering also coincides with meetings on the same topic being held today and Wednesday between U.S. cardinals and Pope John Paul II.

Weakland will talk with the priests from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Cousins Center in a meeting that will be closed to the public, said his spokesman, Jerry Topczewski. The meeting was announced Monday afternoon in an e-mail sent by Topczewski.

"He's asked them to gather so he can provide them the latest information on what's been happening, so that they can hear it from him rather than through the media, and let him hear from the priests as far as what they're dealing with in their parishes," Topczewski said in an interview.

Weakland wants an opportunity to communicate directly with the priests, Topczewski said.

"He doesn't feel that the secular media have presented a clear and accurate picture of the diocese's response to the sexual abuse cases currently, as well as how past cases have been presented," Topczewski said.

Topczewski said the news media recently have carried stories on old abuse cases that had been covered years ago and have not fully explained how the diocese is handling the problem.

"The reporting's been incomplete and the cases that have been discussed have been widely reported in the past and are reported as new discoveries," he said.

Joe Cerniglia, a Milwaukee-area survivor of priest sexual abuse, called on Weakland to hold a similar meeting with abuse victims.

"They're calling the priests together when their first move should be to call all the victims together," he said.

Cerniglia sued the archdiocese in 1993 over alleged abuse by Father William Effinger 14 years earlier at Effinger's former parish in Lake Geneva. A judge dismissed the case, ruling the statute of limitations had been exceeded.

Effinger was given a 10-year prison sentence in 1993 for the second-degree sexual assault of a 14-year-old boy in 1988. That happened after Weakland had transferred Effinger from Lake Geneva to a parish in Sheboygan. After the allegations surfaced in Sheboygan, Effinger was accused of molesting nine others. He died in prison in 1996.

Weakland celebrated his retirement Mass on Sunday at St. John Cathedral. He will remain archbishop until a successor is appointed.

Topczewski said Weakland also held a meeting with priests on short notice during controversy over renovation of the downtown cathedral, which was dedicated in February.

The diocese has said that six priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct continue to work in public ministries. Weakland also has appointed a commission, led Howard Eisenberg, dean of the Marquette University Law School, to review how the church handles abuse cases.

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