The head of the Wisconsin Department of Justice says the state’s five Catholic dioceses are not all cooperating in a statewide inquiry into sexual abuse by clergy and other faith leaders.
Attorney General Josh Kaul held a press conference Tuesday, July 20, to provide an update on his office’s review of clergy and faith leader abuse. Kaul said they’ve received more than 100 reports of either sexual assault or how faith organizations have responded to abuse since launching the investigation in April.
"Many of the people who reported to us have previously reported, but some of the people who reported are reporting for the first time," Kaul said. "Some of the people who reported provided information about various different religious organizations. Other people who made allegations that didn’t relate to any religious organizations at all."
Kaul said anyone who has experienced abuse or who may have information about a potential abuse case should report it to the DOJ’s office even if they’ve previously reported to a Catholic diocese or local law enforcement.
He said people shouldn't assume that a previous report will be received by his office because of a lack of cooperation from the state’s five dioceses.
Kaul referenced a 2019 report from the Green Bay Press Gazette that found officials from four of the five dioceses said they would cooperate with an attorney general investigation.
"I’m not going to speak about specific dioceses but by and large, that has not been the response that we have received so far," Kaul said. "Overall, between dioceses and religious orders, I would say that the response has been uneven and it's part of the reason that these reports are so critically important."
Last month, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee challenged the statewide inquiry in a letter to Kaul, saying the investigation had "an unreasonably broad scope" and questioned Kaul’s legal authority to launch the review.
Instead of providing Kaul’s office with requested documents, the archdiocese said they offered to provide information in relation to any new allegation of abuse against a person who is still alive.
Kaul said on Tuesday that many of the reports his office has received so far are related to past incidents that are outside of the statute of limitations. He said the DOJ will refer cases that are eligible for further investigation or prosecution to local district attorneys, but declined to say how many cases have been referred so far.
Kaul emphasized that people can report in a confidential manner and will speak directly with a trained victim services specialist who can refer them to other resources.
Sarah Pearson is associate director of Nate’s Mission, a Wisconsin-based project of the group Ending Clergy Abuse. She said hearing about the lack of participation from the state’s Catholic dioceses is concerning for survivor advocacy groups like hers.
"For an organization that has such a bad track record of dealing with this issue, to see them respond in that way I think is disheartening, although I will say it's not particularly surprising," Pearson said. "What we have to do is people have to report."
She applauded Kaul's efforts to encourage people who may have information about potential abuse to also come forward, saying that information could be especially important given the lack of cooperation from church officials.
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