News 8 Now Investigates-‘breaking the Silence’

By Martha Koloski
January 22, 2020

It’s been 18 years since the Catholic Church announced a zero-tolerance policy in hopes of ending sexual abuse by clergy.

But just this past weekend, the Diocese of La Crosse released its own list of credibly accused clergy.

And this past December Pope Francis made an important change to something called the “Pontifical Secret.” It is the church’s highest level of confidentiality.

He abolished its use in cases of clergy committing violence or sexual assaults against minors or anyone under their authority.

The new policy also includes cases related to a lack of reporting abuse and attempts to cover up accusations.

The Diocese of La Crosse was one of the last diocese to maintain its secrecy and NOW promises transparency to end the abuse.

The St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral sits in the center of La Crosse. It’s the Bishop’s Church and has been for more than 150 years, but times have changed and the Church has come under fire.

Bishop William Callahan oversees the La Crosse Diocese, its 19 counties, 108 parishes and approximately 177 priests.

As Diocese after diocese around the nation purged themselves of documents involving sexual abuse cases of credibly accused priests and clergy, the La Crosse Diocese found itself in the minority.

It was one of the last 14 diocese of the nation’s 145 to give an account.

An audit it says goes back more than 150 years and names 25 clergy members.

In an address, Bishop William Patrick Callahan said, “This disclosure of names is an important step. The Church must again confess to this evil and pledge our prayers and support to all victims and their families.”

The list of names, just released this Saturday, may lead to more reports from more victims.

In a May, 2019 article, PBS NewsHour reported that the Church shows “allegations of child sex abuse by clerics more than doubled in its latest 12-month reporting period, and that its spending on victim compensation and child protection surged above $300 million.”

All of this has been a long time coming for Joe Cody.

It took him decades to overcome his trauma.

Just 13-years-old and an altar boy at St. Phillips Church in Crawford County he was assaulted by Fr. Thomas Dempsey.

Cody says, “I knew it was wrong, but there was no recourse. I was never counseled. It was one of those things that you slid under the carpet.”

Although Joe couldn’t bring himself to tell, there were more victims and one of them broke the silence.

“I couldn’t until my parents found out from another set of parents and their son had the courage to tell them. My parents said, Did this happen to you? I didn’t want to admit it. I felt ashamed. I thought it was my fault.”

Cody went on to explain, “In 1963, people didn’t talk about anything. It was just … sorry it happened. I was told my father almost attacked Fr. Dempsey.”

Cody’s father wasn’t the only one who was angry, “You talk about how it affected my faith. From that point on I was done. I was done with the church.”

And to make matters worse, Cody knew his perpetrator wasn’t being punished, “He was just moved. He was not disciplined, he was put in another parish!”

In fact, According to, Dempsey was in the La Crosse Diocese off and on for 20 years, spending time in 15 parishes.

But any justice for victims may be hard to come by, since according to that same PBS article and the church’s annual report, “more than 90% of the alleged abusers were already dead or removed from the ministry.”

It took decades, but Joe Cody saw Fr. Dempsey convicted in La Crosse in 1997. It was more than 30 years after the accusations came to light.

But time has a way of healing, Cody explains, “Every time you say the Lord’s Prayer it says … forgive us for our trespasses and we forgive those who trespass against us. So if I want forgiveness, I have to forgive. I’ve forgiven Fr. Dempsey 100-thousand times and I’ve forgiven the church too.”








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