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Nearly 180 reports made to DOJ regarding clergy, institutional abuse in Wisconsin

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

"It's really encouraging to see that so many people regard our reporting system as one that provides a safe and trusted place to report," AG Kaul said. "I'm very positive about how things are going."

Advocates are also happy to see the investigation moving forward and people having their stories heard and taken seriously.

"The number 200 is only a small fraction of the total number of victims and we hope what he's gathering will tell a narrative about what happened in Wisconsin," said Sarah Pearson, of the organization of Ending Clergy Abuse Wisconsin.

One hold up for the investigation, however, has been the lack of participation from the Catholic diocese in the state. In June, the Milwaukee Archdiocese said it had no plans to participate or hand over documents, calling the investigation "anti-Catholic bigotry," but this week said it would hand over documents only if a new allegation is received against a living priest.

"So far, the Attorney General has not indicated any new allegations about a living Archdiocese of Milwaukee priest have been received or whether criminal charges could be pursued based upon any report," said Sandra Peterson, the communications director for the Archdiocese.

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Kaul said participation on behalf of the dioceses has been very limited or non-existent, which means reports from individuals are the only way to receive information.

When individuals make a report to the hotline or online, they're immediately connected with a victim services worker who can connect the survivor with resources if needed. Then each claim is looked into by a team of people across different specialties, who decide if the claim can be forwarded to local authorities.

So far, two cases have been referred to the Brown County District Attorney's Office for further investigation, but Kaul declined to say if any other cases have been forwarded to investigators anywhere else in the state.

Some reports can't be sent onto local investigators, though, because they fall outside of the state's statute of limitations. For criminal cases, victims of child sexual assault older than 45 can't bring charges forward, and for civil cases, the ability to sue ends at age 35. While advocates and survivors for years have encouraged legislators to change the statute of limitations or open a "window" for people to file civil charges, the Legislature has not taken up any bills.

At this point, Kaul said there is no planned end for the investigation or to take down the clergy abuse hotline the department established. As long as the department keeps receiving reports, they will keep the investigation active and continue to investigate and work with law enforcement across the state.

But the lack of cooperation from dioceses is likely going to prolong the investigation, Kaul said.

"The limited and absence of cooperation from the dioceses slows the process down," he said. "Obviously, if we get documents faster from the different organizations, that would help the process move forward faster."

Pearson said it's appalling that the dioceses are refusing to participate in the investigation, especially after saying they wanted to be more transparent.

"The noncooperation is alarming and unacceptable. It's an obstruction of justice," she said. "And really it's an attempt to conceal from Catholics of Wisconsin the truth of what happened in their church, under their watch."

Laura Schulte can be reached at and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura.


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