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Attorney General says DOJ received reports of abuse from clergy in all five Wisconsin Diocese

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Attorney General Josh Kaul shared that the Wisconsin Department of Justice received more than 100 reports of abuse and sexual abuse by faith leaders and clergy.

Kaul started the inquiry in April and since then received abuse reports from all five Wisconsin Diocese and non-catholic religions.

These reports span from decades ago to recent months and anyone who feels they have been abused is encouraged to come forward, regardless of when the abuse occurred.

Kaul said the goal of this independent review is to make it easier for victims to come forward.

Whether these reports could turn into prosecutable cases remains to be seen. Once the inquiry is complete, any claims that meet Wisconsin statute of limitations will be prosecuted with relevant district attorneys.

Kaul said that it will continue for "the next few months" and that his team is trying to make abuse reporting less traumatizing than in previous years.

"One of the things that they've heard is people expressing gratitude that there's somebody who is taking this call, who is listening to their report, taking it seriously and following up on it as appropriate," (D) Kaul said. " Because in some cases people have struggled with the trauma that comes from assault for years and in some cases decades."

When abuse is reported the DOJ refers potential victims to organizations like New Horizons in La Crosse to help with mental, physical health and legal help.

"There is a lot of distrust in our government systems in protecting these victims," New Horizons development coordinator Sierra Lyon said. "I think that by showing that we as a service it's free and confidential it does have a connection and a relationship with the department of justice can be really influential and encouraging people to also have that same trust."

When Kaul launched the investigation in April, the Diocese of La Crosse released the following statement that said they would work with him:

On Monday, April 26, 2021, representatives from the Diocese of La Crosse, along with representatives from the other four Dioceses and leaders of religious orders of the State, participated in a meeting led by Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul. The Attorney General announced that his office is beginning a statewide investigation into all previous cases of clergy and faith leaders’ sexual abuse. It is important to note that in his request of documents, Mr. Kaul is referencing a review of historical cases and not any new reports or allegations.

In the Diocese of La Crosse we take the issue of sexual abuse of minors seriously. In order to bring healing and reinforce our commitment to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the Diocese of La Crosse has proactively taken significant steps to ensure accountability in the processes established to review allegations of abuse of minors by clergy in the Diocese. Through the Protect and Heal initiative of the Diocese of La Crosse, procedures for the reporting and investigation of complaints of sexual abuse of minors by clergy were re-written, ensuring independence in the process. The Independent Review Board was reorganized to allow for a greater involvement of the laity. A comprehensive review of all clergy files was completed in 2019 by an independent firm. Then in January 2020, Bishop William Patrick Callahan, in his commitment to truth and transparency, released to the public the names and ministry details of clergy with confirmed allegations of child sexual abuse. The list is actively updated if any new information is received, independently investigated and substantiated.

We believe that the education, training, prevention and investigation policies and procedures that have been put into place over the past years in the Diocese of La Crosse have dramatically improved the protection of children entrusted into our care. Outreach and opportunities of healing for survivors of abuse are growing through pastoral initiatives and support within the local Church.

The Diocese of La Crosse will examine the letter of requests from the Attorney General when it is received. At that time, the Diocese of La Crosse will assess the statutory authority for the requests, as well as other considerations, like the confidentiality rights of those survivors of abuse whose privacy interests could be impaired by a release of sensitive information to a public agency. 

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life.

News 19 reached out the diocese on Tuesday and did not receive an updated statement yet.

Kaul said not all of the reports are from people in the Catholic church, some were other faiths that were not sepcieficed.

He said there is no deadline to receive reports yet.

Survivors can report abuse to the Wisconsin Attorney General here:

  • SupportSurvivors.widoj.gov
  • 1-877-222-2620

Survivors can report abuse to New Horizons here:

  • nhagainstabuse.org
  • 888-231-0066
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Marcus Aarsvold

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