WTMJ-TV [Milwaukee WI]
April 27, 2021
By Mary Jo Ola
The Wisconsin Department of Justice has launched an investigation into abuse by clergy and faith leaders.
The DOJ said it made contact with the five Catholic dioceses in Wisconsin and multiple religious orders with priests before Tuesday’s announcement.
“We’re conducting this review to get greater accountability and to promote healing for victims. We’re conducting this review to improve response to abuse and hopefully prevent future cases of abuse,” said Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul.
Kaul’s team will work with five district attorneys in the counties where the Catholic dioceses are located, included District Attorney John Chisholm in Milwaukee County.
The initiative includes two main pieces: requesting and reviewing documents from dioceses and religious orders, as well as asking survivors and anyone with knowledge of abuse or the institution’s response to abuse to contact the DOJ.
“This is a pretty emotional day for me and I think a lot of survivors,” said Peter Isely, who is also an advocated pushing back against clergy abuse with organizations like Nate’s Mission and Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Isely appealed to other survivors to speak up.
“I know how difficult it’s going to be for many of you to come forward again. I want you to know this time is different because this time it’s confidential. It’s safe, and you have information,” Isely said.
TMJ4 News asked officials at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee if they were willing to cooperate with the DOJ review.
“Yeah, the Attorney General said he’s going to send us a letter and essentially detailing what he’s asking for. So when we get that, we will take a look at it and make some decisions from there,” said Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff to the archbishop.
Topczewski said they want victims to come forward, adding there is also concern about some survivors reliving their trauma.
He defended the church’s ongoing response to clergy abuse.
“I think the most important takeaway is that these are old cases. These are not new allegations,” said Topczewski. “In the past, maybe we weren’t, in all cases, the model of how to handle these allegations. But after 25 years and all of the things that have been put in place by the church, institutionalized, we can now say we’ve become a model on how to address sexual abuse in society.”
When pressed, Kaul said the review is not limited to the Catholic Church. The attorney general added they will refer cases to local enforcement if the evidence warrants it.
The DOJ created a hotline for survivors and anyone with information. That number is 1-877-222-2620. They can also visit supportsurvivors.widoj.gov.