SNAP Milwaukee Letter to Wisconsin Attorney General J.b. Van Hollen
January 17, 2013
To: The Honorable J. B. Van Hollen, Attorney General, Wisconsin Department of Justice
From: Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)
Re: Archdiocese of Milwaukee obstructing active child sex abuse investigation
Dear 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 (SNAPnetwork.org) is the oldest and largest self-help community of survivors of clergy sex crimes in the world, founded in 1989 and with over 12,000 members.
Today 350 victim/survivors filed a brief with supporting documents in Milwaukee Federal Bankruptcy Court that demonstrate that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee is refusing to cooperate with law enforcement officials and turn over evidence of sex crimes against children in a current and active investigation of childhood sexual assault (see attachments). Church officials are making the absurd assertion to the Fond du Lac police that the rules of bankruptcy court prohibit such cooperation. This is contrary to the repeated and public claims by Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki that church officials always cooperate with civil investigations of child abuse and that he has already turned over all relevant evidence of sex crimes to district attorneys in the 10 counties in which the archdiocese operates.
The behavior of the Milwaukee archdiocese is similar to that which was recently uncovered by prosecutors in the Philadelphia and Kansas City dioceses, which has led to the first convictions of top church officials and members of the hierarchy for the failure to report child sex crimes or to actively interfere with law enforcement in child sex abuse investigations.
Last February we wrote to you and subsequently met with top officials of your office about these very concerns. We urged you at the time to launch an investigation into the criminal evidence contained in 570 victim reports filed in Federal Bankruptcy court that, according to attorneys, detail at least 8,000 acts of criminal child sex abuse by at least 150 alleged offenders. Most of these offenders are ordained clergy who have worked in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee with children and families over the past 50 years. At least 100 of these offenders appear to have never been identified to law enforcement officials or to the public. Along with these direct victim reports, are at least 60,000 pages of internal abuse related church documents and depositions of top church officials, all currently sealed by the court at the request of the Archdiocese.
The refusal to cooperate with civil authorities also, unfortunately, remains a disturbing feature of the history of dealing with child sex abuse by clergy by several dioceses around the country and by the current Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki. Listecki, when bishop of La Crosse and before his appointment to Milwaukee in 2010 by the Vatican, led a diocese that kept a greater percentage of clergy with child sex abuse reports in ministry than any other diocese in the United States, six times the national average. Listecki was also publically criticized by the Eau Claire police chief for his failure to institute a proper reporting policy for the diocese, which he did not modify, along with several high profile cases involving priests where with abuse reports were handled internally within the diocese without turning them over to law enforcement.
Of current concern are the potentially dozens of alleged priest offenders named in the bankruptcy claims who are today staffing parishes and schools around the archdiocese, or have been transferred to assignments in other states or countries, or have been allowed to quietly leave the priesthood and find new employment working with children and families. The current individual under investigation in Fond du Lac, Jerry Wagner, is working with families and performing services as a funeral home minister and was actually paid, as court records show, to leave the priesthood, after multiple reports of child sex assault were made by several victims to the archdiocese.
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 and an authoritative determination for the citizens of Wisconsin about the history, nature, and extent of child sex abuse in the archdiocese of Milwaukee.
And we believe that as the chief law enforcement official in our state, your authoritative voice and leadership is needed in not only investigating but insisting that church officials fully cooperate with law enforcement, and immediately turn over all relevant abuse documents to local district attorneys, state and federal authorities. And, that every Wisconsin diocese publish a full and comprehensive public notification of every single cleric, church employee, or volunteer with a known and substantiated history of abusing children.
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 or prevent and obstruct justice in the prosecution of these crimes.
SNAP Midwest Director
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Wisconsin Director
SNAP Milwaukee Co-Director