Earlier this month, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee sent a 12-page letter to Wisconsin attorney general Josh Kaul, expressing objections to the Department of Justice investigation of sexual abuse by clergy and other faith leaders, launched in April.
The letter questioned the attorney general’s request for files related to past abuse cases and abusers who have died. Signed by attorney Frank LoCoco, the letter stated that “there is no legal basis to undertake any investigation related to alleged abuse by now-deceased [Archdiocesan] priests or any other deceased alleged perpetrators.” The letter added that the investigation “improperly targets the Roman Catholic Church and appears to be a product of anti-Catholic bigotry.”
In April the attorney general kicked off the statewide investigation by establishing a new Department of Justice website, SupportSurvivors.widoj.gov, and phone line, 877-222-2620. He invited victim-survivors, their families, and whistleblowers to report abuse or details about how institutions have handled abuse cases. During a press conference announcing the investigation, Kaul welcomed reports from people of any faith tradition.
Before that press conference Kaul called a meeting that included representatives of all Catholic dioceses in Wisconsin, alerting them that they would receive a request for documents related to all past abuse cases.
Archbishop Jerome Listecki addressed the clergy abuse investigation in his regular column, sent by email to area Catholics on June 1. He said that the Archdiocese will “voluntarily provide access to documents and information on any living individual against whom a new allegation is made.” But he also expressed “significant doubt that the Attorney General has the legal authority to conduct such an investigation.”
“We have legitimate concerns that his inquiry is directly targeting only the Catholic Church,” Archbishop Listecki wrote. “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.”
Survivors Share Their Grief, and Awake Grieves with Them
We at Awake are not legal experts, nor are we equipped to consider the validity of the attorney general’s approach. But the Archdiocese’s legalistic response is not what we would hope to hear from the shepherds of our Church. We are more concerned about the pain suffered by victim-survivors than we are about possible anti-Catholic bias.
We have been contacted by several survivors in the weeks since the Archdiocese issued these responses, and it’s clear that they are hurting. One survivor, a practicing Catholic, wrote to us, “My pain did not die with the death of my abuser.” She said that this recent response by her Archdiocese “becomes another wound” after years of suffering.
What We Can Do
Hearing this kind of grief pushes us to continue Awake’s work of walking with and advocating for survivors. We see the statewide investigation as potentially painful but also necessary. As Awake Executive Director Sara Larson shared in her remarks the day the investigation was announced:
“The truth is that the only way forward for our Church is through transparency, accountability, and justice. We cannot even begin to heal until we face the full truth of the crimes that have been committed in our Church. Our Catholic faith calls us to stand up in the face of injustice and act in solidarity with those who are suffering, so I ask my fellow Catholics to join me in welcoming this investigation and in facing whatever might be revealed, with both courage and compassion.”
We offer four ways to act in solidarity with sexual abuse survivors at this moment.
- Acquaint yourself with the basics about the investigation by reading Awake blog posts on this topic. These include:
- The summary of our Courageous Conversation in May, which featured retired Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske and two other speakers who offered insights into the attorney general’s investigation.
- Comments from survivors of clergy sexual abuse, who share their hopes and reservations about the Wisconsin investigation.
- Awake’s report on the Wisconsin attorney general’s press conference in April announcing the investigation. Awake Executive Director Sara Larson spoke during the press conference, specifically addressing Catholics in her remarks.
- Reflections from Awake Leadership Team member Elizabeth Brick, who shares how the similar attorney general investigation of clergy sexual abuse in Michigan affected her personally.
- Pray for abuse survivors and their families, as well as those investigating abuse reports, and the leaders of all Wisconsin dioceses.
- Share information about the attorney general’s investigation with fellow Catholics. Use the What Catholics Should Know infographic created by Awake to inform those conversations.
- Stay conscious of the fact that abuse survivors and their loved ones are present in your community, even if you don’t know who they are, and they are deeply affected by what they hear.
Awake would like to know how you and fellow Catholics in Wisconsin are feeling about the attorney general’s investigation, including any questions you might have. If you have not yet completed our survey for Church leaders or Catholics in the pews, please consider sharing your thoughts in this way.
—Awake Leadership Team