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Archdiocese Of Milwaukee Challenges Statewide Investigation Into Clergy Abuse

Church Officials Question Need To Review Old Cases, Legal Authority Of Attorney General's Inquiry

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The aisle of a church
Angel Rodriguez-Rey (CC BY-NC-SA)

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is challenging a request for documents for a statewide inquiry into abuse by clergy members and other faith leaders.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul launched an investigation into abuse by clergy members and other faith leaders in April. His office planned to review documents from dioceses and religious orders in addition to taking direct reports from survivors and their families, friends and victim advocates.

Sandra Peterson, communications director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, said the archdiocese’s attorney sent a letter to Kaul this week questioning the need to provide decades-old documents that have already been reviewed by other legal authorities.

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“(Kaul’s request) was really an unreasonably broad scope that would have involved far more information than he would need, it would require dozens of staff that we as an archdiocese don’t have and it could cost the archdiocese hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide that much documentation,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the archdiocese has instead offered to provide information in response to any new allegations against a person who is still alive, saying the alternative will “assist with protecting victims, will maintain the rights of the church and it will avoid any wasteful expense.”

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is also challenging Kaul’s legal authority to launch the statewide investigation, saying any charges would be brought by district attorneys.

“(Kaul) hasn’t made any allegations that there is some kind of statewide crime going on or statewide issue that he’s investigating. And he actually really hasn’t made it clear what the objective of this whole investigation is,” Peterson said.

The archdiocese has also questioned whether the statewide review inappropriately targets the Catholic Church instead of being a broad look into abuse within faith organizations.

In a recent letter to his congregation, Archbishop Jerome Listecki said the church had “legitimate concerns” that Kaul’s inquiry targets 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,” Listecki said.

The attorney representing the archdiocese said in his letter to Kaul that the investigation “appears to be a product of anti-Catholic bigotry” and violates protections under the First Amendment.

In an emailed statement, Kaul said he was “disappointed that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has declined the opportunity to cooperate,” but said the investigation would move forward.

“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,” Kaul said in the statement.

Sarah Pearson is associate director of Nate’s Mission, a Wisconsin-based project of the group Ending Clergy Abuse. She said the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and Archbishop Jerome Listecki were again obstructing justice for survivors of abuse.

“The practices of the church have so long denied access to justice to individuals who have experienced abuse within the organization,” Pearson said. “Because of the institutional practices of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, those reports were never forwarded to law enforcement.”

Pearson said the archdiocese’s unwillingness to turn over the requested documents suggests that they could carry examples of institutional coverup of abuse or other misconduct.

“This refusal to cooperate just further demonstrates that they’re not willing to tell the truth, that they’re not willing to come clean to Catholics and to the people in Wisconsin who trusted them to protect and educate their children through the years. So it’s just further evidence that this investigation is warranted and long overdue,” Pearson said.

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