Archdiocese of Milwaukee rebuffs Wisconsin AG’s clergy abuse investigation

“There is significant doubt that the attorney general has the legal authority to conduct such an investigation,” Archbishop Listecki said on June 1st. “We have legitimate concerns that his inquiry is directly targeting only the Catholic Church.”

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee will not participate in the Wisconsin attorney general’s investigation of clergy sexual abuse of minors, citing its own extensive investigations over two decades. Pictured: the Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee. (Photo: Coasted Media / Unsplash)

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin — Saying the Wisconsin attorney general’s investigation of clergy sexual abuse is an unlawful targeting of the Catholic Church, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will not cooperate in the state’s plan to review old case files of priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has for 20 years thoroughly reviewed every allegation made against a priest and submitted the information to local district attorneys. Information on those credibly accused of sex abuse of a minor has been posted online since 2004.

“There is significant doubt that the attorney general has the legal authority to conduct such an investigation,” Listecki said June 1 in his weekly e-mail to the faithful in the 10-county archdiocese. “We have legitimate concerns that his inquiry is directly targeting only the Catholic Church. We have accepted our past history and worked so vigilantly to correct how things are handled but it’s the Church that is continually targeted.”

On April 27, Wisconsin Attorney General Joshua L. Kaul announced an investigation into clergy and faith leader sexual abuse of minors. This came one day after he met with representatives from the five Wisconsin Catholic dioceses and at least two religious orders. Requests have since been made by the state for historical documents related to clergy accused of abusing minors. Kaul said the investigation is not aimed solely at the Catholic Church.

Listecki said the archdiocese automatically refers information on any new abuse allegations to county district attorneys, and will continue to do so. The archdiocese already conducted historical case reviews as part of its 2011-2012 bankruptcy reorganization in federal court, and has had outside law enforcement experts examine records to make sure no cases were missed.

“We have continued to work with abuse survivors to improve the Church’s response to those who have been harmed, and we have also put stringent preventative measures in place,” Listecki said. “In addition, we have supported extending the statute of limitations to allow more time for prosecution of offenders, and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has provided more than $50 million in direct payments to individual abuse survivors.”

Kaul said he was disappointed in the decision. “Our independent, statewide review of clergy and faith leader abuse seeks to provide a measure of accountability, the opportunity for healing, and to help prevent future cases of abuse,” he said in a statement. “We’re disappointed that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has declined the opportunity to cooperate in that effort, but our review will continue to move forward.”

Archdiocesan attorney Francis H. LoCoco of the Husch Blackwell law firm wrote to Kaul that of the 578 abuse claims submitted to the archdiocese in the bankruptcy case, 99 percent involved abuse committed prior to 1990. Only one case alleged abuse committed after the year 2000. The archdiocese produced 60,000 pages of documents for attorneys representing abuse survivors, then spent $600,000 to prepare documents for public release, he said.

“Having worked with abuse survivors for the past 30 years, it is the AOM’s (Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s) experience that conducting an investigation like the one proposed here will not lead to ‘healing,’” LoCoco wrote. “Rather, it will lead to the further victimization of those who have already suffered significantly.” Given the long time period since first public disclosure of the cases, he said, “there is simply no benefit to your office attempting to conduct this type of unwarranted investigation in the absence of any legal authority and in the absence of any defined and reachable goals.”

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee lists 48 people on its public database of clergy with credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. First posted online in 2004 and updated since, the web site since 2013 includes thousands of pages of case files and human resources documents with background on the accused. LoCoco said even in cases where the district attorney decided not to prosecute, the archdiocese hired former Milwaukee Police Department detectives to investigate each case. An Archdiocesan Review Board of outside officials then recommended to the archbishop whether the charges were substantiated.

In his letter to Kaul, LoCoco said the investigation seems to be based on a bigoted view of the Catholic Church. “The investigation improperly targets the Roman Catholic Church and appears to be a product of anti-Catholic bigotry,” LoCoco wrote. “This is a violation of the Establishment Clause, which precludes the disfavoring of a particular religion.” Despite Kaul’s “platitudes” that the probe will include other groups, LoCoco said, “in every official statement the attorney general makes clear that the Catholic Church is the target of the investigation.”

The attorney general’s office should have brought these issues before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, but did not, LoCoco said. “At most, the attorney general appears to be purporting to stand in the shoes of abuse survivors to seek relief against the AOM,” he wrote. “Such ‘authority’ is well beyond the attorney general’s statutory authority.”

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley determined the 578 abuse claims did not represent a public-safety threat. “The vast majority of the claims allege abuse that occurred in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s,” Judge Kelly wrote, according to LoCoco’s letter. “For the most part, the alleged abusers named in the claims are those identified by the debtor as having substantiated abuse claims made against them. Many of those individuals are deceased; the others have been removed from public ministry.”

LoCoco said Kaul does not expect to identify prosecutable cases as part of the investigation. “To be clear, your stated intent is not to investigate crime, but to leverage your position to dictate policies to the Catholic Church,” LoCoco wrote. “This is a clear abuse of the First Amendment. Based upon our conversation, even this stated goal is based upon complete ignorance regarding what the Catholic Church has actually done over the last two decades to address the problem of clergy sexual abuse of minors.”

Archbishop Listecki said Safe Environment training has been provided to nearly 100,000 individuals who work with the archdiocese. Safe Environment is a child abuse and maltreatment prevention program required for all clergy, staff, volunteers and lay ministers. All abuse allegations are referred to law enforcement, then subjected to archdiocesan investigation and scrutiny by a review board. Criminal background checks are required for all bishops, priests, deacons, staff and volunteers.

“We know mistakes were made in how some previous cases were handled, but today’s Church is now a model for how this issue is addressed,” Archbishop Listecki said. “The Archdiocese of Milwaukee must simply and humbly, with regret, sorrow, contrition and resolve, continue to do our best to ensure to the best of our ability that nothing like this can ever happen again. We are firm in that resolve, and we demonstrate that commitment through the actions we have taken. No institution in the country has done more to combat the societal issue of sexual abuse of minors in the past 20 years than the Catholic Church.”

Advocates for abuse survivors had pressured Kaul to open an investigation. The probe came just about a year after the March 2020 suicide of Nathan Lindstrom, who accused three priests of St. Norbert’s Abbey near Green Bay with molesting him when he was in high school in the 1980s. The Norbertine order provided $420,000 in financial support to Lindstrom over a decade, but stopped paying in May 2019, according to an investigation by the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Lindstrom’s widow Karen appeared at Kaul’s April 27 press conference.

Wisconsin’s Catholic dioceses and religious orders that serve in the state have publicly identified some 175 priests who’ve had credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor lodged against them between 1950 and 2021. This includes nine priests in the Diocese of Madison, 26 in the Diocese of La Crosse, 48 in the Diocese of Green Bay, 48 in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, 24 priests from the canonry of St. Norbert Abbey, and 20 Society of Jesus (Jesuit) priests who served in Wisconsin.


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About Joseph M. Hanneman 73 Articles
Joseph M. Hanneman writes from Madison, Wisconsin.

7 Comments

  1. Setting aside the issue of any “trust” in the intentions of the AG Kaul, there is something repulsive about the “self-certification” of rectitiude by the lawyers and chancery and Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

    Why should anyone, especially Catholic people who want justice for victims of clergy sex abuse, and in turn want fraudulent clergy and Bishops brought to justice, place any more trust in their Bishop, than we might place in the AG of Wisconsin?

    WHy indeed, when in these very pages here at Catholic World Report, the faithful Catholic psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons (who, having heard the accounts of one of McCarrick’s victims, personally travelled to Rome to warn the Congregation for Bishops about McCarrick), has publicly accused the Bishop of Rome, the Pontiff Francis, and his self-appointed Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin, of issuing “falsehoods and fabrications” in their McCarrick Report? Read that accusation here:

    https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2020/11/11/the-mccarrick-report-and-the-need-for-new-protocols-part-1/

    With some few notable exceptions, the Bishops and Cardinals, and at the very least this particular Pontiff marketed as “Francis,” have proved themselves collectively, and in many instances personally, to be worthy of nothing except distrust.

    It seems that these men are not pursuing God’s justice…therefore…God has given them over to the Attorney Generals of the world.

    • Did you read the evidence that the Archdiocese presented in its defense? Did you read what steps the Archdiocese has taken to date? Do you understand that no other institution or organization or union or denomination, many of whom have plenty of dirty laundry, is being investigated? I suggest you look at the specific evidence in each case rather than applying a one-size-fits-all condemnation.

      • Tom:

        No, I haven’t read a scintilla of evidence in the various Milwaukee cases, but I am instead making an over-arching comment, based on other reports about other comparable cases I have read about, including the article here at CWR that I just cited. My over-arching comment is, to state it plainly, a rejection of any Archdiocesan organization anywhere claiming that it ought it be trusted to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about sex abuse cases in its own diocese.

        In fairness to you, are you implying that you have been reading and assembling the evidence you recommend that I gather about the AD of Milwaukee? If so, is it correct to assume you are gathering evidence presented from both the AG of Wisconsin, and the AD of Milwaukee, and are weighing them against one another?

        If you have in fact been doing what you suggest I ought to do, I would welcome having you offer some of the evidence you have been assembling, and comment on it.

        In turn, I refer you to the evidence I cited from the article by Dr. Fitzgibbons, a first-person witness making accusations against the unidentified authors of the Pontiff’s “McCarrick Report,” and I ask you what you conclude about his accusations.

        I look forward to hearing back from you and discussing this topic with you.

        With no malice, and in the Truth of Christ,

        Chris

        • Chris, the attorney for the archdiocese states (and this should be easy to fact check) “…of the 578 abuse claims submitted to the archdiocese in the bankruptcy case, 99 percent involved abuse committed prior to 1990. Only one case alleged abuse committed after the year 2000.” Every abuse case deserves to be investigated, and the Archdiocese states that they refer each to the County DA, but based on the age of these claims and absence of specific charges this demand by the AG is a guilty until proven innocent action. I am heartily against this kind of thing whether it involves the Church or anyone else. That’s how things work in China. The AG’s action also infers that such abuse is not occurring in public schools (better not rile his party’s union friends) or anywhere else, and we know this is false. We live in an age when many in power will destroy the Church if they can, so the Church (and we) need to push back hard unless an accusation is grounded in evidence. Otherwise, we’ll get the China model we deserve. A worthy conversation, Chris.

          • Tom:

            Thank you for responding.

            I take it the answer to my question about the cases is “no.”

            As to what the attorney for the AD of Milwaukee says, the only thing we can glean from him and the AD rr colleis that ofthe 578 claims they say the cost, 5 or 6 are after 2990.

            But according to Fr. Sullins of Catholic University, and his other colleagues who have studied the patterns of sex and abuse case reporting, and associated those cases with other demographic data, there is a long reporting lag between abuse events and reports, since the abused are most often at very vulnerable disadvantage wrt to their abusers (in the vast majority of cases clergy or bishops abusing minors and/or seminarians).

            Perhaps the trust gap can be calibrated by answering the question as to whether the Lindstrom case was among those 578 cases “admitted” or “reported” or whatever word might be apt? The implication is that it was not, which leads to the question “Why not?”

            The AD of Milwaukee presumably has an interest in controlling what information is disclosed about its actions and omissions, especially in light of the reign of the openly homosexualarebyhe very and unrepentant Archbiship Rembert Weakland, Dolan’s immediate predecessor in Milwaukee, who stole Church funds to pay off one of his sex partners.

            I wonder if the law firm for the AD of M is the same that served Archbishop Westland when he was committing his moral and financial defrauding of the faithful in Milwaukee?

  2. The phrase “beating a dead horse” comes to mind. Sexual abuse is of course reprehensible and always to be condemned. But if many of these crimes took place 60 and 70 years ago and many of the abusers are dead, what exactly is the point of reviewing this stuff over and over again, if not to continue to damage and bankrupt the church? As terrible as the crime may be, I have issues with accusers popping up decades after the alleged crimes when details cannot be confirmed or defenses mounted. Lets not forget that Cardinal Pell was falsely accused and spent time in prison because of it. Only by the grace of God was he finally freed. Such false charges happen all too frequently across the criminal spectrum, especially when the “solution” is money.And what on earth does a bankruptcy proceeding have to do with sexual abuse charges at all??? Its past time for the Bishops to give a big shove back to government officials of all kinds as they continue to interfere with the practice of our religion. Bravo to the Milwaukee Diocese. Tell the govt to hit the road. Its time to bring back singing in church , and stop outdoor Masses. And push back on officious govt officials looking to use their work as a platform to a higher elected office by enacting a hit job on the church.

  3. Our church has suffered a long history of sex offenses by the clergy. I would have said “enough is enough”. but this article motivated me to look further.

    “The vast majority of the claims allege abuse that occurred in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s,” Judge Kelly wrote, according to LoCoco’s letter. “For the most part, the alleged abusers named in the claims are those identified by the debtor as having substantiated abuse claims made against them. Many of those individuals are deceased; the others have been removed from public ministry.”

    Is it true that “others have been removed from ministry”? Isn’t that a slap on the wrist penalty? If the perpetrators were from the 50s, 60s and 70s what happened to the 80s thru 2021?

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