AG Josh Kaul says clergy abuse investigation is a ‘safe and trusted place,’ declines to get into specifics

Wisconsin State Journal [Madison WI]

July 20, 2021

By Chris Rickert

Nearly three months into a statewide investigation of clergy abuse, Attorney General Josh Kaul says the effort has received more than 100 reports but declined to say how many of them have generated referrals to law enforcement or for victim services.

Kaul, who faces election next year, also would not go into specifics about whether Wisconsin’s four Catholic dioceses and one archdiocese are cooperating with the investigation, but called their participation so far “uneven.”

He spoke during a press conference Monday at the Dane County Courthouse in Madison, the first of six such events the first-term Democratic plans to conduct around the state to talk about the probe, which he promoted as a “safe and trusted place for survivors to report.”

While the investigation is not specific to any one religious faith, the Catholic Church has been embroiled in investigations of clergy abuse of children by priests for more than two decades in countries around the world.

In Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Archdiocese has said it will not turn over documents to Kaul’s investigators, saying the attorney general lacks the authority to initiate the investigation, its records are sealed as a result of its 2012 bankruptcy case, and that it has for nearly 20 years been publicizing the names of credibly accused clergy and providing anti-abuse training to staff.

The Diocese of Madison last month sent a letter to Kaul’s office in response to the probe, but declined to release it publicly. In a June 4 statement, it said “the letter reiterates that the Diocese’s reforms are working and that there have been zero credible allegations against clergy or faith leaders of sexual abuse of minors that occurred in the last 10 years.”

DOJ denied a public records request from the Wisconsin State Journal for the diocese’s letter, saying disclosure could hamper its clergy abuse review.

“Overall between diocese and religious orders I would say that the response has been uneven,” Kaul said, “and it’s part of the reason that these reports are so critically important.”

Kaul on Monday would not say if he would subpoena uncooperative dioceses for documents.

He said he was driven to begin the review in April because he’s heard from “survivors of clergy abuse who have been concerned that there has never been an independent, statewide review conducted in Wisconsin.” He said more than 20 other states have launched similar reviews.

This story will be updated.