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Madison Diocese orders sex abuse records review

The review, says incoming Bishop Donald J. Hying, “demonstrates the commitment of the Diocese of Madison to a thorough and transparent process of ensuring no allegation of clergy sexual abuse has been mishandled or ignored.”

Left: Bishop Donald J. Hying, who will be installed as Madison’s fifth bishop on June 25.(Photo: Diocese of Gary, IN); right: Late Madison Bishop Robert C. Morlino at an August 2018 Mass at St. Mary of Pine Bluff Catholic Church. (CWR Photo by Joseph M. Hanneman)

MADISON, Wis. — A review of nearly 75 years of Diocese of Madison personnel records by an outside agency of former FBI agents, says incoming Bishop Donald J. Hying, will demonstrate transparency and a commitment to ensure clergy sex-abuse investigations were conducted properly.

“The records review demonstrates the commitment of the Diocese of Madison to a thorough and transparent process of ensuring no allegation of clergy sexual abuse has been mishandled or ignored,” Hying said in a statement to Catholic World Report. Hying, currently bishop of the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, will be installed as Madison’s fifth bishop on June 25.

The Madison diocese announced it hired Texas-based Defenbaugh & Associates Inc. to conduct a full review of its clergy personnel files from the time of its founding in 1946. The probe will be led by Danny Defenbaugh, a nearly 33-year FBI agent and former head of the FBI’s Dallas office who organized the agency’s investigation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The review will likely take several months to complete, the diocese said. Defenbaugh & Associates is based in Kaufman, Texas.

The Madison review project is part of a trend toward more openness and accountability at U.S. dioceses in the wake of priest sex-abuse scandals. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee recently published an in-depth database of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. The web site includes hundreds of pages of personnel files and other documents on priest abusers; the kind of detail rarely seen outside of plaintiff attorneys’ offices. The Diocese of Green Bay earlier this year added 12 names to its list of credibly accused priest abusers after Defenbaugh & Associates did a review of its personnel files in 2018. The Diocese of Little Rock in Arkansas added two names to its list of credibly accused clergy earlier this year after Kinsale Management Consulting conducted a review of that diocese’s 1,350 personnel files.

The Diocese of Madison lists seven priests on its register of clergy credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor: Archie Adams, Curtis Alvarez, J. Gibbs Clauder, Kenneth Klubertanz, Michael Trainor, Lawrence Trainor and Gerald Vosen.

The diocese has two ongoing investigations; one involves retired priest William A. Nolan, 66, who faces a September 2019 trial in Jefferson County on six felony counts of second-degree sexual assault of a child. He is accused of having a sexual relationship with an altar boy from St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fort Atkinson when the boy was between 13 and 16 years old. The abuse survivor is now in his mid-20s. Nolan stood mute and had not-guilty pleas entered on his behalf in 2018. Another diocesan case under preliminary review involves a now-deceased priest whose name has not been divulged.

As of 2003, the Diocese of Madison paid out $1.6 million in settlements to at least 19 sexual-abuse survivors. Diocesan spokesman Brent King said a more current figure isn’t available, although the Defenbaugh investigation should help provide an update. The Diocese of Madison covers 11 counties, with approximately 280,000 Catholics.

The late Diocese of Madison Bishop Robert C. Morlino initially suggested the outside review of personnel files on October 4, 2018, during an appearance on EWTN’s “The World Over” program. “We really do need systematic investigation I suppose of every diocese’s files,” Morlino said. “It could take forever. It could cost a lot of money. But I think it’s a necessary moment in our purification at this time. We’ve got to get the whole truth out there.”

After Morlino’s sudden death on Nov. 24, 2018, the man chosen as interim diocesan leader decided it was important to keep the idea alive. Msgr. James Bartylla, diocesan administrator, began plans for the comprehensive review of files. After being selected by the Holy Father as Morlino’s successor in April, Bishop Hying expressed strong support for the outside review. His installation as the Diocese of Madison bishop is set for June 25 at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Madison.

The announced review has not been greeted warmly by everyone. A spokesman for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) told the Wisconsin State Journal that the fact the Madison diocese has a relatively low number of accused clergy is suspect in itself. “That alone should require vetting, and a full investigation by a truly outside, independent force,” Peter Isely told the newspaper.

The diocese had a different take. “While seven is a smaller number than other dioceses, one accusation against one priest is one too many,” spokesman King said. “So, similarly, seven priests is seven priests too many. There is nothing to be proud of there. We are undergoing this review to see what, if anything, we don’t know and will update the people of the diocese and the community accordingly.”

Any information involving allegations of sexual abuse by clergy developed during the Defenbaugh review will be turned over to the Diocese of Madison’s Sexual Abuse Review Board. “Any new allegations of criminal behaviors in this regard will be turned over to appropriate law enforcement officials,” the diocese said in a statement.

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About Joseph M. Hanneman 101 Articles
Joseph M. Hanneman writes from Madison, Wisconsin.

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