Many of the documented abuse incidents date back decades and were not reported to the archdiocese or civil authorities until years after the abuse. Priests who were prosecuted often did not go to jail.
"It is easy to question decisions of the past with the insight of today, but it wasn't until the late 1980s and early 1990s that the Church and society began to better understand this topic," Archbishop Listecki said.
Formal outreach to survivors and response to abusive priests only began to emerge in the 1990s, he said.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee entered bankruptcy three years ago to allow the archdiocese to continue to operate while also paying some of the claims of abuse plaintiffs. There are 575 plaintiffs involved in the bankruptcy, mainly represented by Jeffrey Anderson.
"Our hope is that the publication of these documents can help bring this chapter of our history to a close and allow us to continue to focus on our desire to work with abuse survivors, and to focus on education and prevention," Archbishop Listecki said. "We pray for those who are abuse survivors and pledge our continued support for those who have been harmed, following the Lord's command to love one another."
Cardinal Dolan, who is president of the U.S. bishops' conference, said sexual abuse of minors is "a crime" and "a sin."
"The Church must remain rigorous in our response when an allegation of abuse is received, and ever-vigilant in maintaining our safeguards to do all that we can to see that children are protected," he said.
"It is my hope that the release of these documents will also help to show how the Catholic Church in the United States has become a leader in dealing with the society-wide scourge of sexual abuse, and help other groups and organizations who are also seeking combat this evil."