WUWM - NPR [Milwaukee WI]
July 28, 2021
By Maayan Silver
[With content from Associated Press]
The state Department of Justice is conducting Wisconsin’s first statewide independent investigation into abuse by clergy and faith leaders. Attorney General Josh Kaul said that since the inquiry was announced in April, the agency has received more than 100 reports of abuse.
The review is ongoing and that anyone with information still has ample time to report, he said. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking to hear from survivors of abuse by faith leaders, friends or family of survivors, and anyone who has information about how a religious organization has responded to reported abuse. The DOJ is encouraging them to report that information online at supportsurvivors.widoj.gov or by calling 1-877-222-2620.
At a news conference Tuesday, Kaul outlined the DOJ’s goals for the review: “One is to get a measure of accountability to the extent that we can. We know that an issue that survivors are concerned with is making sure that the lists of credibly accused priests are accurate.”
Except for Superior, all Wisconsin Catholic dioceses, along with St. Norbert Abbey and the Society of Jesus, have published lists of clergy with “credible” allegations against them.
The attorney general said another aim of the probe is to connect survivors with services for victims. He said the initiative has already been successful on that front.
“A number of survivors are reporting for the first time when folks report to DOJ. As I mentioned, there are trained victim services specialists who are there to take reports, but they can also connect survivors to local victim services around the state,” he said.
Kaul said a third goal is to make sure the DOJ does what it can to prevent abuse. “And so we want to work to identify what the problems were and hopefully to work with diocese and religious orders to provide best practices on how to prevent future cases of abuse,” he said.
The Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese issued a response to the investigation in June. It accused Kaul of targeting the Catholic church and argued the probe is evidence of anti-Catholic bigotry.
A lawyer for the archdiocese also contends that Kaul doesn’t have the authority to investigate the state’s dioceses. Attorney Frank LoCoco said the probe looks back too far in time as the investigation includes allegations from decades ago.
LoCoco wrote that if Kaul learns of any new allegations against living priests within the archdiocese and provides that information, the archdiocese would grant him and local prosecutors access to any available information about them.
The archdiocese issued a statement that said: “We continue to cooperate with any new allegations against a living priest and have not received any word from the Attorney General that any have been received.”
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisolm appeared at Tuesday’s news conference with Kaul. Chisholm said future prosecutions are possible.
“Over the years, we have in fact prosecuted individuals who even those whose acts occurred a long time ago, we’ve been able to move forward on some of the prosecutions because of the willingness of victims to come forward,” he said.
Kaul said the inquiry and the invitation to survivors to come forward will continue in the months ahead. He said a multidisciplinary team will review the reports, following the facts where they lead.
Maayan Silver has been a reporter with WUWM’s News Team since 2018. She joined WUWM as a volunteer at Lake Effect in 2016, while she was a practicing criminal defense attorney. See stories by Maayan Silver