Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul announced a statewide initiative Tuesday to review reports of clergy and faith leader abuse in the state.
Led by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Kaul says the plan has support from survivor groups, crime victim services professionals and district attorneys.
“The people of Wisconsin, and especially victims, deserve an independent review of clergy and faith leader abuse,” Kaul said in a statement. “With this initiative, we are seeking to ensure that survivors of clergy and faith leader abuse have access to needed victim services, to help prevent future cases of sexual assault and to get accountability to the extent possible.”
Reports of abuse will be investigated no matter when it is alleged to have occurred, according to the statement. The Department of Justice reported that it is looking into “the five Catholic dioceses in Wisconsin, as well as several religious orders with priests in Wisconsin.” The form for victims includes an option for Catholic churches, or an option to type in which denomination from which the abuse was experienced.
Survivors, those who are aware of or witnessed sexual abuse and people who have knowledge about the cover-up of such abuse, are all being encouraged to give confidential statements to the Department of Justice.
Those with information pertaining to the initiative are encouraged to report online at supportsurvivors.widoj.gov/ or by calling 1-877-222-2620.
Too much, or too little?
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee released a statement shortly after Kaul announced the initiative, saying they have concerns the investigation will “re-victimize” survivors.
“There is no evidence to suggest that the Church as a whole and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee hasn’t already taken all possible steps in addressing issues surrounding clergy sexual abuse,” the church said in the statement. “We also question why only the Catholic church is being singled out for this type of review when sexual abuse is a societal issue.”
The release goes on to say that the Catholic church has “done more to combat sexual abuse over the last 20 years than any other institution in the United States.”
While the DOJ has been in contact with five Catholic dioceses and multiple religious orders with priests about the review, Nate’s Mission, a project aiming to end clergy abuse, says they aren’t satisfied with the lack of vocal support.
“Wisconsin dioceses and religious orders have repeatedly attempted to assure survivors that they take this issue ‘seriously’ and have implemented ‘measures’ to ensure the prevention of child sexual abuse,” the group said in a statement. “After decades of gag orders, lies, hush money payouts to abusive priests, survivors have learned not to trust church officials.”
They say that if the dioceses and religious orders are confident that they have not committed crimes, then they should be eager to comply with the investigation.
Kaul said in a press conference Monday that the investigation is ongoing and the the Department of Justice would continue to be in contact with faith leaders across the state.