AG Kaul releases three-year update on statewide clergy abuse initiative

WSAW [Wausau, WI]

April 26, 2024

By Sean White

As Wisconsin approaches the third anniversary of the launch of Wisconsin DOJ’s Clergy and Faith Leader Abuse Initiative, Attorney General Josh Kaul is releasing additional information and highlights of other progress being made through the initiative.

“Through this initiative, Wisconsin DOJ continues to work to support survivors and independently review clergy and faith leader abuse in Wisconsin,” said AG Kaul. “If you have information about clergy and faith leader abuse, I encourage you to submit a report through the initiative’s online reporting tool or to call the toll-free tip line.”

One survivor shared, “I am deeply grateful for the work of the Wisconsin DOJ in the Clergy and Faith Leader Abuse Initiative. When I first decided to come forward and tell the truth of my decades-old abuse, I was terrified … The victim services specialist was my first contact with the DOJ and the process was one of great support and compassion. … My hope is that victims who have remained silent with their abuse stories will go the DOJ first and begin their journey towards healing.”

Wisconsin DOJ Takes Every Report Seriously

Shortly after launching the initiative, Wisconsin DOJ organized training for victim advocates in Wisconsin so that they would be prepared to support survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and faith leaders. The training offered live presentations by national experts on how to work with survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

After Wisconsin DOJ receives a report of abuse, a victim specialist evaluates the report to determine the appropriate follow-up. If the reporting party has indicated a willingness for Wisconsin DOJ to contact them, a victim specialist will reach out to help with identifying survivor support resources. The report is then evaluated by a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) comprised of a victim advocate, an investigator, and a prosecutor. The MDT confers and recommends the next steps, which can include follow-up questions for the survivor, gathering of additional documents, or referral to local law enforcement for further investigation. Every report of abuse is reviewed by an MDT.

Speaking on their reporting experience, one survivor stated: “I can say that I truly don’t think I could have gone through with this [being interviewed about the abuse] without [the] advocacy and support.” They also described the experience as “a safe and comfortable interview,” and credited the DOJ victim specialist, describing the specialist’s “care and follow up” as “phenomenal.”

The Reports Received by Wisconsin DOJ Are Making a Difference

As of April 24, the Wisconsin DOJ Clergy and Faith Leader Initiative has received a total of 274 completed reports to the toll-free tip line at 1-877-222-2620 and the online reporting tool.

Additionally, Wisconsin DOJ has received a significant number of reports from those who had not previously reported to anyone.

One case reported through the Wisconsin DOJ online reporting tool resulted in criminal charges. The survivor reported alleged abuse by Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal of the Catholic Church. Following the report, an MDT at Wisconsin DOJ convened and decided to refer the report to local law enforcement with consent from the survivor.

The criminal complaint alleges that McCarrick engaged in repeated sexual abuse of the victim over time. On Jan. 10, the court determined that McCarrick was not competent to stand trial and suspended the proceedings. A review hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 27.

As another example, three survivors used the Wisconsin DOJ online reporting tool to report alleged abuse in the early 1970s by John Cullinan, a deceased Catholic priest who served in the La Crosse diocese. The diocese received and reviewed information from victims and their advocates, and on Dec. 20, 2022, the church added Cullinan’s name to its credibly accused list.

Survivors Encouraged to Report

Although many survivors have already come forward, Wisconsin DOJ encourages survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and faith leaders to contact Wisconsin DOJ, either through the online reporting tool,, or by calling the toll-free tip line at 1-877-222-2620.

DOJ to Issue Final Report

After appropriately following up with each report made to Wisconsin DOJ as part of the initiative, the department will issue a final report. The report will provide an overview of the initiative, a summary of the reports made to Wisconsin DOJ, and what has been done in response to those reports. The report also will discuss institutional responses to allegations of sexual abuse, including responses to the Wisconsin DOJ initiative.

Because the timeline for appropriate follow-up for each report to Wisconsin DOJ is uncertain and depends on various factors, the release date for a final report has not yet been determined.

For more information, click here.

Copyright 2024 WSAW. All rights reserved.