The Skeleton in Ron Johnsonís Closet: the Catholic Church

By Joseph Lawler
First Things
October 7, 2010

Ron Johnson has a double-digit lead over liberal darling Russ Feingold in recent polling on Wisconsinís senatorial race. But now Johnsonís opponents have found out a damaging fact about him: he is connected to the Catholic Church.

Johnson is not even Catholic. He is Lutheran. But after he testified in the state senate committee earlier this year against a bill relaxing the statute of limitations on accusations of sexual abuse of children, the liberal media picked up on the fact that he was also a member of the finance council for the Diocese of Green Bay. Sadly, in this day and age, that constitutes a conflict of interest, as a TPM expose argued.

Specifically, as a member of the finance council, Johnson would have been working with diocesan officials, including auxiliary bishop Robert Morneau, who has been a bishop in the diocese since 1978. That time span encompasses, as it would in so many American dioceses, a sex abuse scandalóthere were accusations of abuse against 35 different Green Bay priests between 1950 and 2002, according to the 2004 John Jay reportóincluding those involving Fr. John Feeney.

In 2004, Feeney was convicted of molested two young brothers in 1978. Even worse, a new lawsuit based on the same instance alleges that the diocese had prior knowledge of Feeneyís abusiveness, providing documents suggesting that officials knew of other occasions in which Feeney behaved inappropriately with children.

Now, probably Johnsonís intentions in testifying against the Child Victims Act were good, and he wants only the best for children. And clearly the media that are dragging his connection to the Church into center stage are doing so only because they want the Democrat elected, not out of any concern for abuse victims. But itís a sad commentary on the state of the Church in public life that association with the Church in Wisconsin, instead of being a mark of civic engagement and responsibility, is an automatic scandal for political opponents to exploit.


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