Unafraid to challenge politicians and exercise vigilance in the matter of the positions of speakers at Catholic events, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki is known for defending the integrity of Catholic teaching.
While serving as bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse, Archbishop Listecki promulgated a “policy of prudence” in 2005 regarding invitations to speakers, in order to prevent a misunderstanding or confusion about the teachings of the Catholic Church on abortion, homosexuality and other moral issues.
He also broke from the Wisconsin Catholic Conference’s neutral stance on legislation in 2007 that would force hospitals to dispense potentially abortifacient drugs to rape victims. While the church acknowledges that a woman has a right to protect herself from becoming pregnant as a result from rape, Bishop Listecki was justifiably concerned that potentially inadequate conscience protection could force Catholic hospitals to dispense emergency contraception without having time to determine whether the woman was pregnant.
One of 25 bishops to criticize Notre Dame
Last April Bishop Listecki joined 24 U.S. bishops in criticizing the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Barack Obama to offer its commencement address and to receive an honorary law degree.
In a prepared statement, he wrote, “This invitation was extended in spite of President Obama’s continual offenses against the sanctity of human life through his executive actions and appointments since taking office.”
Archbishop Listecki’s appointment to Milwaukee is encouraging to leadership within statewide pro-life organizations.
As executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, Barbara Lyons looks forward to continuing a relationship with a man she considers a “fine, holy person.”
“We know Bishop Listecki quite well and have worked with him and his staff,” Lyons said. “His holiness comes through significantly, especially as he has been so helpful in right-to-life issues and we are honored to have him in Milwaukee.”
‘Not shy’ in taking on Pelosi stance
Lyons praised the archbishop for his position against anti-Catholic, high profile issues and for leading the way on state and national issues.
“He did an excellent job in La Crosse and was not shy on taking a stance in Nancy Pelosi’s butchering of the Catholic Church and President Obama speaking at Notre Dame,” she said.
State director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, Peggy Hamill, is encouraged by her experience working with Archbishop Listecki in the La Crosse Diocese.
“He has proven himself, through word and action, to be deeply committed to the protection of innocent human life at all stages,” she said. “He has also worked to defend the conscience rights of pro-life medical personnel and institutions.”
Comfortable engaging public policy issues
While not always in agreement with the positions of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, Archbishop Listecki is comfortable engaging issues as public policy and articulating the values of the Catholic Church, according to WCC executive director, John Huebscher.
“Although we don’t necessarily agree with one another all the time, he is comfortable engaging in conversation and affirming Catholic values,” he said, adding, “And sometimes he is against our decisions and sometimes he is for them. I have seen him at Catholics at the Capital (an event sponsored by the Wisconsin Catholic Conference for those interested in Catholic social teaching and advocating for justice) and he is comfortable doing that. I look forward to having him as our archbishop; he is a known quantity and has been on our board for four and a half years. He enjoys meetings and engaging discussions and he will be doing that from a different table now.”
Polish, Midwest heritage good fit
After meeting him at Catholics at the Capital, Rob Shelledy, archdiocesan coordinator of social justice ministry, recognizes and appreciates Archbishop Listecki’s dedication to Catholic values and willingness to be a spokesperson for them.
“I am very pleased we have someone from the Midwest as our new archbishop so it won’t be as much of a learning curve as it would be if he had been from another part of the country,” he said. “His ethnic heritage will also fit in easily in Milwaukee given our strong Polish community.”
While Shelledy noted that all bishops are strongly pro-life and this is not a change for Milwaukee, he looks forward to Archbishop Listecki continuing that tradition.
“He is politically minded and knows a lot of Catholic public officials and I look forward to working with him,” he said.
‘Working person’s bishop’
With degrees in canon law and civil law and moral theology, Archbishop Listecki worked closely with La Crosse diocesan attorney James Birnbaum over the past few years and quickly developed a reputation as a working person’s bishop.
“He came to La Crosse as a stranger and is leaving as a good friend,” said Birnbaum. “He is comfortable in a pastoral way, relates to people extremely well, (is) not obsessed with authority, (is) respectful and dedicated to the responsibility. At the same time he is more in tune to engage people than worrying about some of the frills that go with the position.”
Viewing the church as one big tent in which his mission as a shepherd is the desire to keep people in, not screen them out or not invite them in – Archbishop Listecki is not afraid of the world, Birnbaum said.
Speaks out in ‘constructive way’
“There are those who operate from the concept that the world is evil and you have to build castle walls and moats around us,” he said. “This bishop is not that way. He is engaging and believes that the world is fundamentally a good place and likewise the church should in this country play its rightful roles. He is not afraid to speak out and exercise prerogatives and the church’s issues, but he does it in a constructive way.”
According to Birnbaum, one of the best indications of the leadership coming to Milwaukee is Archbishop Listecki’s reputation.
“He is very beloved in the Chicago vicariates and parishes he has served. He is respectful and doesn’t come in with a meat ax and say, ‘It’s my way or the highway’; he’s just a big tent person who is a very good shepherd.” he said.