The Wisconsin Justice Department chief said not all of the state’s five Catholic dioceses were cooperating in a state-wide investigation into sexual abuse by clergy and other religious leaders.
Attorney General Josh Kaul held a press conference on Tuesday to provide an update on his office’s review of abuses by clergy and religious leaders. Kaul said they received over 100 reports of sexual assault or how faith-based organizations have responded to abuse since the launch of the survey in April.
“A lot of people who have reported to us have reported already, but some of the people who have reported are for the first time,” Kaul said. “Some of the people who reported provided information on various different religious organizations. Other people who made allegations that did not relate to any religious organization at all.”
Kaul said anyone who has experienced abuse or may have information about a potential abuse case should report it to the DOJ office, even if they have already reported it to a Catholic diocese or local law enforcement. .
He said people shouldn’t assume that a previous report will be received by his office due to a lack of cooperation from the state’s five dioceses.
Kaul referenced a 2019 report from the Green Bay Press Gazette which found officials from four of the five dioceses said they would cooperate with an attorney general investigation.
“I’m not going to talk about specific dioceses, but overall that’s not the response we’ve received so far,” Kaul said. “Overall, between dioceses and religious orders, I would say the response has been mixed and that is part of the reason why these reports are so important.”
Last month, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee challenged the statewide investigation in a letter to Kaul, saying the investigation was “unreasonably broad in scope” and called into question the legal authority of Kaul to start the exam.
Instead of providing the Kaul office with the requested documents, the archdiocese said it offered to provide information on any new allegations of abuse against a person who is still alive.
Kaul said on Tuesday that many of the reports his office has received so far relate to incidents past the statute of limitations. He said the Justice Department would refer cases eligible for further investigation or prosecution to local district prosecutors, but declined to say how many cases have been referred so far.
Kaul pointed out that people can report confidentially and speak directly with a qualified victim services specialist who can refer them to other resources.
Sarah Pearson is associate director of Nate’s Mission, a Wisconsin-based project of the Ending Clergy Abuse group. She said hearing about the state’s lack of participation from Catholic dioceses was concerning for survivor advocacy groups like hers.
“For an organization that has such a bad track record in dealing with this problem, seeing them react in this way, I think it’s disheartening, although I will say it’s not particularly surprising,” said Pearson. . “What we have to do is people have to report.”
She applauded Kaul’s efforts to encourage those who may have information about potential abuse to come forward as well, saying that information could be particularly important given the lack of cooperation from church officials.