In April of 2021, state Attorney General Josh Kaul began the Clergy and Faith Leader Abuse Initiative, a report aiming to gather information on clergy abuse across Wisconsin. One year later, Kaul has an update.
“Today we are announcing we have received over 200 reports around the state of Wisconsin, providing information on over 150 alleged abusers. 51 of the people reporting, or a quarter, are reporting for the first time,” Kaul says.
The goal of the report, Kaul says, is to create a full picture of clergy sexual abuse in Wisconsin.
With every report, a team consisting of a victim advocate, an investigator, and a prosecutor review the case and assess what steps can be taken.
A lot of the reports, Kaul says, are from instances that happened outside the statute of limitations. In many cases, he says, the alleged abuser has passed on. These reports are still helpful to the initiative, as it helps the Attorney General’s office to create a full picture of clergy abuse.
So far, there has been one arrest made from a report against a camp counselor who is accused of sexually abusing a child at a Waushara County church camp in 2009. That case is still ongoing.
Whether charges are brought forward or not, Kaul says that there is still a lot of value in reporting clergy abuse. Once a report is filed, the person who files the report is then connected with local support services. Eventually, it will also help them to create a larger report down the road for the Attorney General’s office to potentially make recommendations on how to prevent future instances of clergy abuse.
The report has thus far gathered 51 previously unreported incidents, where neither law enforcement nor religious authorities were notified of the abuse. Kaul says that this is proof that the initiative is working as intended.
“Those reports are a critical part of our review for several reasons. One is, if there is information that could lead to a criminal prosecution, we are prioritizing that and working with local law enforcement to follow up. Secondly, we want to make sure we are connecting survivors with services, particularly people who haven’t received them before. Seeing so many people report for the first time is encouraging in that respect as well. And last, we want to get a comprehensive understanding of this issue in Wisconsin,” Kaul says.
Last year, Indigenous citizens of Wisconsin called on the Attorney General to expand the scope of his report to include a full investigation into clergy abuse at Wisconsin residential schools. Residentials schools were set up in the late 1800s and worked to strip Indigenous children of their language and cultural identity. Shortly after, Kaul encouraged those who faced abuse at the schools to file a report, though has not yet opened a full investigation.
In January, the group Nate’s Mission, a worldwide group dedicated to ending clergy abuse, delivered several boxes of documents related to cover-ups related to clergy abuse in Wisconsin. They say that the Green Bay Diocese destroyed evidence of clergy abuse.
Nate’s Mission said that they have been in contact with many of those who have reported to the General Attorney’s office, and that they will be holding their own event about the Clergy Abuse Initiative within the next few weeks.
The report is still ongoing, and the state Department of Justice encourages survivors of clergy and faith leader abuse to file a report at supportsurvivors.widoj.gov, or by calling 1-877-222-2620.
Photo courtesy: Joshua Eckstein / UNSPLASH