Wisconsin Senate Candidate Ron Johnson's Plea to Green Bay Catholic Diocese Disappoints Activists

By Steve Contorno
Green Bay Press-Gazette
September 30, 2010

DE PERE U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson has tried to comply with an advocacy group's request by urging the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay to be open in its investigation of alleged pedophile priests, but members of the group say that isn't enough.

The Republican asked the diocese on Wednesday to be transparent regarding decades-old allegations of child abuse among priests and particularly the Rev. John Patrick Feeney, who was sentenced to prison in 2004 for molesting two brothers in Freedom.

Johnson used to serve on the diocese's financial council and in January testified in Madison against the Child Victims Act a Wisconsin bill aimed at making it easier for childhood sex abuse victims to sue their attackers on behalf of the diocese, among other groups. Johnson's statements focused on the financial impact of the bill on nonprofits that serve minors.

Johnson's remarks Wednesday were in response to a news conference in De Pere organized by SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

While SNAP leaders said they were encouraged by Johnson's call for transparency, they are hoping he will also use his connections within the diocese to stop officials from attempting to block the release of the names of other clergy from the diocese known to have assaulted children.

The diocese's legal counsel filed a motion Sept. 15 as part of Feeney's ongoing case in Nevada to block a request to release the names in part because it was from outside the state and it could bring to light the names of other sex offender victims who have chosen to remain anonymous.

"We think (Johnson is) in a really unique position. He's put himself out there on this issue already. So now we're asking him to put himself out there on this issue in a way that we can all agree will bring upon a common result that we are looking for," said Peter Isely, Midwest director for SNAP.

Johnson is running against three-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, in the Nov. 2 election.

While the diocese said it would not comment on issues relating to a political candidate, a statement from Diocesan director of administration Deacon Tim Reilly said "we have worked diligently over several decades to implement strong policies and procedures that maintain safe environments for children.

"Of all the allegations we have received over the years, the most recent alleged incident of clergy sexual abuse is from 18 years ago. We think this demonstrates the effectiveness of our commitment and work."


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