The La Crosse Diocese says 25 former priests sexually abused kids. Its report omits key details.
By Laura Schulte
Wausau Daily Herald
February 5, 2020
| David Clohessy, of St. Louis, who is the Missouri director and former national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, holds a list of Catholic priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abused and have spent time in the Diocese of La Crosse on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Wausau, Wis.|
Photo by Tork Mason
The Diocese of La Crosse has so far released no information about the number of children who were sexually assaulted by the 25 priests on its list of abusers, nor any details about when or where the abuse happened.
The diocese released the list of credibly accused abusers on Jan. 18 but said Bishop William Patrick Callahan would not take questions about the release, nor did the Catholic institution provide any background information about the firm that conducted the review, Defenbaugh & Associates, of Kaufman, Texas.
Since the day the list was released, diocese spokesman Jack Felsheim has not responded to multiple messages from the Wausau Daily Herald requesting an interview with the bishop. The founder of Defenbaugh & Associates told the Daily Herald he couldn't disclose information about the investigation.
The review found that 25 priests who served in churches and schools in the diocese over several decades had been credibly accused of abusing children, but left out many details.
Here’s what we do and don’t know, based on the diocesan list:
The diocese didn’t release much information about the victims of abuse, other than that all were children at the time.
The diocese didn't disclose how many victims came forward for each priest, how many total victims it knows about, their ages or genders at the time they were molested, in what year or what community the assaults took place, or any other details about the crimes.
The diocese list said only whether the priest had faced one or "multiple" of what it called "substantiated allegations." Sixteen of the 25 had multiple allegations against him, three had an unspecified number of accusations and six had only one, according to the list.
La Crosse authorities didn't say if the diocese responded to each victim or how it treated the cases when they were reported or since.
VIEW THE LIST: La Crosse diocese names 25 former priests who abused children
The diocese reported that 18 of the 25 accused abusers are now dead but did not provide the location of the remaining seven who are still alive. Summaries under each name on the diocese disclosure reveal only when the abuser was removed from the clergy, but not where the person lives or is employed.
The diocese also did not disclose if the abuser has been charged criminally for the abuse.
The Wausau Daily Herald was able to find online criminal court records for only two of the priests. A La Crosse County judge dismissed charges of indecent behavior with a child against Thomas Dempsey in 1997. The diocese said Dempsey served at several churches in the city of La Crosse, as well as Bangor within that county. He also served in Bloomer, Boaz, Chippewa Falls, Eastman, Eau Claire, Genoa and Aquinas High School, Mauston, Rudolph and Soldiers Grove. He also served outside of the diocese, according to the diocese website.
In 2002, Timothy Svea was convicted in Marathon County of second-degree sex assault of a child, false imprisonment, fourth-degree sexual assault and five counts of exposing genitals of a child, according to court records. According to the diocese, Svea served at St. Mary’s Ridge in Monroe County, as well as in Tomah and Wausau.
The diocese listed names of priests, the year they were ordained and where they served but not when specifically they served in each location or where they were when an assault was alleged.
The reports also leave out how the diocese was informed about the abuse and how its leadership responded to the reports or cared for victims in the aftermath.
Bishop Accountability, an independent source tracking Catholic church abuse cases nationwide, suggests the La Crosse diocese also missed some of the parishes where the abusive priests worked. According to the Bishop Accountability website, Jesuits who served within the diocese were completely left off the disclosure.
According to the investigating firm's website, Defenbaugh & Associates offers security and management consulting services. The staff is composed of former law enforcement and fire and rescue executives. The company was started by Danny Defenbaugh, who worked for the FBI for 33 years, with a focus on violent crimes, such as kidnapping, extortion, hijacking and terrorism.
Defenbaugh retired from the FBI in 2002, according to reporting in The Oklahoman, after the U.S. Justice Department's inspector general recommended he face discipline for not turning over hundreds of documents to the defense lawyers for Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. McVeigh's execution was delayed by nearly a month because of the error, according to The Oklahoman's report.
The firm has conducted reviews in all of the dioceses in Wisconsin, including the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, according to a voicemail message Defenbaugh left for a reporter at the Wausau Daily Herald. He said he was unable to speak with a reporter about the reviews because they are a confidential "attorney work product," and referred questions to Jessica Kirchener, a lawyer based in La Crosse. Kirchener did not respond to a request for comment.
After the disclosure of names, parish leaders across the La Crosse diocese were instructed to read a letter from Bishop Callahan during Masses over the course of the weekend. In a letter and video posted to www.diolc.org, the bishop told viewers that the disclosure is an important step forward for the diocese, and offered prayers to victims and their families.
“I realize that our promise of continued prayer and support may not seem to be enough; for your pain, suffering and anguish will always be a part of you,” he wrote in the letter.
The letter didn’t disclose any current investigations taking place, but did note that the list will remain public and names will be added as claims are “sufficiently confirmed.”
The diocese also did not provide information about whether any compensation will be provided to victims who are still alive.
Clergy abuse in Wisconsin
La Crosse's disclosure last month brings the number of publicly known Catholic priests in Wisconsin who sexually assaulted minors to over 160.
Three institutions — the Diocese of Green Bay, Diocese of Madison and St. Norbert Abbey — published lists just last year. Superior is the only Wisconsin diocese that has not disclosed a list of abusers who served in the diocese.
The Diocese of Superior is still working on its review of clergy abuse cases and might release information later this year, said Dan Blank, director of administration. Blank said he wasn't sure how much information the diocese will release besides names and assignment records of credibly accused abusers.
Blank also declined to speak about Thomas Ericksen, a former priest with the Diocese of Superior who was convicted of sexually assaulting boys in the 1980s and sentenced to 30 years in prison in September.
The Diocese of Madison, meanwhile, is investigating another priest after naming nine with "credible" accusations of sexual abuse against them. The Rev. William Nolan was charged in 2018 with sexual assault of a child, but a Jefferson County jury found him not guilty in September.
The diocese resumed its own inquiry when criminal proceedings ended. Nolan remains on administrative leave, and the investigation is expected to conclude sometime this month.