SNAP Milwaukee Letter to Wisconsin Attorney General J.b. Van Hollen
February 28, 2012

To: J. B. Van Hollen, Wisconsin Attorney General

From: Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

Re: Request for a meeting with victims concerning an investigation into child sex crimes and fraud by the Milwaukee Archdiocese

Attorney General Van Hollen,

We are writing on behalf of childhood victims of rape, sexual assault and abuse by clergy sex offenders from the Milwaukee Archdiocese, our families, and the clergy that support us. Our organization, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests ( is the oldest and largest self-help community of survivors of clergy sex crimes in the world, founded in 1989 and currently with over 10,000 members in the United States alone.

We are requesting a meeting with you to discuss the need for a formal inquiry into the reports of child sex abuse contained in claims submitted to the federal bankruptcy court by 570 victims from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The victim reports detail at least 8,000 acts of criminal abuse by 100 alleged offenders never before identified by the archdiocese, and span 50 years. We urge you to conduct your own investigation of these reports, including the status and whereabouts of these offenders, along with examining for criminal culpability any church official involved in the fraudulent cover up of these crimes. Much of this evidence is contained in tens of thousands of pages of internal church documents and depositions currently sealed in court proceedings and unavailable to the public. We strongly believe victim reports, eyewitness testimony, documents and depositions, and other evidence must be fully investigated and reviewed by you and result in a definitive and comprehensive conclusion concerning the nature and scope of these crimes.

Significantly, on February 9th, federal bankruptcy judge Susan V. Kelley ruled against the archdiocese and for a victim claimant that the current Wisconsin statute of limitations on fraud had not expired. The case involved sexual assaults by a priest dating from the 1970’s. She also ruled that there was sufficient evidence that the criminal acts of a parish choir director in the 1980’s was fraudulently concealed by church officials, even though the individual was a volunteer and not employed by the archdiocese. Her rulings, it is widely believed, will allow into the bankruptcy court many of the 570 victim claimants.

In the course of the February 9th hearing, attorneys representing 350 of the 570 victims, or almost two thirds of the total number of bankruptcy claimants, summarized that at least 8,000 acts of rape, sexual assault, and abuse were documented in the reports submitted by their clients to the federal court. In 2004, the archdiocese of Milwaukee posted on their website a list of 43 priests determined by church officials to have sexually assaulted at least one child. Some of these offenders are named in these 350 claims, but at least 100 are not, according to victim attorneys. These individuals have not been publically identified by the archdiocese of Milwaukee as offenders, even those that have actually been prosecuted for sex crimes in Wisconsin. 75 of these newly alleged 100 offenders are ordained priests. It is unknown how many of these offenders are deceased, are members of religious orders operating in the archdiocese, or are working in ministries or occupations with children in the state of Wisconsin. Once the data from the remaining 220 victim claimants is included in a final count, the number of sexual offenses against children will certainly total over 10,000 acts, with the final number of alleged offenders, including the 43 previously named by the archdiocese, probably approaching 200.

Unfortunately, many of these thousands of criminal acts against children have likely occurred under the old Wisconsin statute of limitations on child sex crimes, even though, ironically, the majority of offenders would, in fact, be facing prosecution under the current statutes. Even so, there is a reasonable possibility that a significant number of these newly identified offenders can still be brought to justice because of the State of Wisconsin’s tolling of the criminal statute on child sex abuse (if the offender leaves the state before the time on the criminal statute expires). Some two dozen clergy, many of them catholic priests or former priests, have been prosecuted over the last decade in Wisconsin due to this provision, which was upheld by the Wisconsin Supreme Court as constitutional in 2006. Especially noteworthy is the number of successful prosecutions of members of various Catholic religious orders operating in the archdiocese of Milwaukee under the permission and authority of the Milwaukee Archbishop, whose organizational territory typically covers several states and even countries. Recent Wisconsin convictions of such clergy include Fr. Donald McGuire (Jesuit), Fr. James Blume (Christian Brother), Sr. Norma Giannini (Sisters of Mercy), and Br. David Nickerson (Brothers of the Good Shepherd).

Tomorrow (February 29), the Archdiocese will argue a motion before Judge Kelley asking her permission to submit to you, free of any independent oversight or review, a “statistical analysis” by decade of the thousands of alleged criminal acts reported by the 570 victim claimants. They cite, among their reasons for doing so, their concern about arecent appeal made by a group of Wisconsin state legislators urging you to launch your own investigation into the newly submitted reports. In the letter, the lawmakers have asked you to investigate not only the actual acts of criminal abuse but “anyone who participated in concealing the sexual abuse of children,” who, they conclude, “must also be prosecuted for aiding and abetting these heinous crimes.”

We are urging you to treat with suspicion any “analysis” concerning thousands of child sex crimes by dozens of clerical offenders, whenever they occurred, by agents of the archdiocese. Suffice it to say, a “statistical analysis” is not only a highly questionable basis to draw a reliable conclusion concerning widespread and systematic acts of child sex abuse and cover up, but why would anyone give church officials this extraordinary privilege to determine for the citizens of Wisconsin the criminal nature and extent of crimes they themselves are directly implicated in committing?

Private organizations working with children, like the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, must stop assuming the functions of policing, investigating and prosecuting for themselves criminal acts of child sexual violence, much less determine or decide the kind of public accountability and punishment that is appropriate for organizational or corporate officials who have committed fraud by concealing and transferring known sex offenders.

The archdiocese is right about one thing however, and in this we fully support them: you and your office must become directly involved in making an authoritative determination for the citizens of Wisconsin about the history, nature, and extent of child sex abuse in the archdiocese. Such a determination, however, can hardly be conducted, much less concluded, on the basis of some cursory, abbreviated and self-interested “statistical analysis” by the very officials who are now facing allegations of fraud for orchestrating perhaps the largest cover up of criminal activity against children in the history of Wisconsin.

The only “analysis” we believe that needs to be conducted about clergy sex crimes and organizational fraud is one directly initiated and concluded by you as Wisconsin’s top law enforcement official. Such an inquiry would obviously include not only examining and investigating all 570 victim reports filed in bankruptcy court but also, and even more significantly, the tens of thousands of pages of internal church documents related to the abuse of children now sealed in the bankruptcy court, along with recently conducted depositions of former top church officials of the archdiocese concerning their direct role in the cover up.

Several state’s attorney generals throughout the nation have felt compelled to conduct their own investigations into the staggering number of clergy sexual assault cases found in their respective jurisdictions. The attorney general in the state of Maine, for example, despite being informed by the state’s district attorneys that they were unable to find a case they could prosecute (based on outdated statute of limitations laws), went ahead with his own investigation. The attorney general’s office cited two important reasons for proceeding with an investigation: to determine whether the diocese, the bishop, or other diocesan personnel had any criminal liability for their role in supervising clergy accused of sexual misconduct and, importantly, to determine whether any clergy with reports of child sexual abuse posed a threat to children or other vulnerable individuals. As a result of their investigation the attorney general’s office found that there were indeed priests and clergy who posed a significant risk to the children in the state of Maine.

Finally, church officials, sadly, are hardly the management team who should be entrusted, without independent and public oversight and review, with the reforms necessary to ensure child safety and organizational integrity. In every U.S. diocese where an independent, law enforcement or court investigation of child sex crimes has occurred–such as by a prosecutor’s office, a state’s attorney general, through a bankruptcy reorganization, or court litigation–the total number of sex offenders and incidents of child sexual assaults has been shown to be dramatically higher than the bishops or the diocese had previously reported. For example, in Philadelphia, the Cardinal announced there were 44 accused priests, however, two grand juries found a total of 198. In Cleveland, the bishop reported to the public there had been 28 accused priests in his archdiocese, the grand jury discovered a total of 145. In Providence, the bishop reported 56 accused priests, the court found 125. The Portland archdiocese repeatedly told the public and Catholics that they knew of 37 accused priests, in bankruptcy court their files revealed 133.

Of particular concern in this regard should be the past record of Archbishop Jerome Listecki, who is currently leading the Archdiocese of Milwaukee into bankruptcy and making the request in Wednesday’s motion. Listecki, whatever else his merits or virtues, has not been open and forthright about how he handled sex abuse cases for the diocese of Lacrosse before his appointment to Milwaukee in 2010. A 2004 national study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that Listecki’s previous diocese had “cleared” 64% of all priests accused of sexual misconduct, the highest percentage of any diocese in the U.S., six times higher than the national average.

The many thousands of good and law abiding Catholics in Southeastern Wisconsin provide an inestimable contribution to the wellbeing and life of the community through their witness, their faith and their good works. All children in Wisconsin have an inalienable right to religious liberty, which means, more than anything else, the right to worship God free from the threat or danger of being harmed by clergy who would dishonor their sacred calling and anyone, including a cleric’s superiors, who would permit or assist in any way the commission of such crimes.


Peter Isely

SNAP Midwest Director

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests



John Pilmaier

SNAP Wisconsin Director



Mike Sneesby

SNAP Milwaukee Co-Director










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