SAINT PAUL, MN – Last week Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul announced that the Department of Justice will begin an investigation into the state’s five Catholic dioceses regarding their handling of clergy sexual abuse. The investigation is long overdue, given the Wisconsin dioceses’ sordid history of concealing allegations of child sexual abuse from survivors and the public.
“We applaud AG Kaul and his team for addressing the consequences of these abuses and perilous practices by the Wisconsin Catholic bishops—past and present—with the urgency, Seriousness, and sensitivity they deserve,” said attorney Jeff Anderson of the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates. The firm has been representing survivors in cases against the Wisconsin dioceses since the early 1990s. “We fought with Wisconsin survivors to blaze this trail, and it’s thanks in large part to their courage that this investigation is possible.”
Despite decades of litigation, much information regarding clergy sexual abuse in Wisconsin remains secret. It was only through civil litigation and the pressure applied by survivors that the identities of sexually abusive clergy, the scope of the abuse, and those who covered it up have begun to be revealed. In July of 2013, this process forced the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to publicly release the files of accused perpetrators in the Archdiocese’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. And while other Wisconsin dioceses have released the lists of accused offenders, these lists are almost always incomplete.
“We believe this investigation will reveal what we and survivors have known for years: that the Wisconsin bishops have consistently taken steps to protect themselves and mitigate scandal at the cost of protecting children or aiding survivors in their healing,” said Anderson.
This is demonstrated by their conduct thus far:
* In 2007, then Archbishop of Milwaukee Timothy Dolan / now Cardinal and Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, obtained Vatican permission to transfer more than $50 million to a cemetery trust to protect the money from survivors of sexual abuse.
* The Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s minutes from a 2003 “Financial Council” meeting indicated that the Archdiocese’s plan to shelter funds from survivors was underway while legislatures were reforming statutes of limitations.
* In May 2003, then Archbishop Dolan’s Vicar General for Clergy enticed a clergy offender to voluntarily leave the priesthood by offering him two $10k payments.
* In 2010, it was revealed that the Diocese of Green Bay bishop, David Zubik, systematically ordered the destruction of documents pertaining to child sexual abuse in his diocese. Zubik’s marching orders came around the time that the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a decision allowing survivors in Wisconsin to sue related to cover-up.
“With this effort, the AG is amplifying the light and heat brought by the courageous, persistent survivors who have previously exposed just a small fraction of the perpetrators and practices hidden by the likes of Dolan,” said Anderson. “The time for secrets is over. It is time for a reckoning in Wisconsin.”