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Wisconsin priest wants pope to meet with abuse victims

MILWAUKEE (AP) - A Wisconsin priest known for speaking out about clergy sexual abuse said Tuesday that if he could speak directly to Pope Francis, the first thing he would ask the pope to do is have regular meetings with victims."

It is the best way to understand their experiences, said Rev. James Connell, the former vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

A 2009 meeting with two victims changed Connell's understanding of clergy sexual abuse and led him to stand with them at news conferences, help form a clergy-victim alliance and, most recently, join a whistleblowers group that works to shed light on abuse and church leaders' response.

Connell said that after that meeting, he realized he had been inattentive to what some of his parishioners had experienced. Connell, 70, recently retired as pastor of Holy Name of Jesus and Saint Clement parishes in Sheboygan. Nearly a dozen priests on the Milwaukee archdiocese's list of those with confirmed allegations of abuse served in that area at one time or another, he said.

Connell spoke to the Milwaukee Press Club on Tuesday, a day after a $1.35 million settlement was announced in a case involving the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., when Newark Archbishop John J. Myers was in charge there. Myers already faced criticism in New Jersey for his handling of a pedophile priest who gained access to children after a deal between the church and a local prosecutor's office allowed the priest to return to ministry.

Connell is among a group of current and former priests, nuns and others who have called on New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the former archbishop of Milwaukee, to use his influence as head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to remove Myers from office. Connell said the group, known as Catholic Whistleblowers, has received no response from Dolan.

Connell said the other thing he would ask the pope to do is to order church officials to speak openly about sexual abuse and make public all church documents related to it. He said he has not faced repercussions for his outspokenness, but he knows other priests who have.

And, while priests privately say they support his work, Connell acknowledged that "there's fewer invitations to go to lunch or a ballgame."

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