The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has responded to Attorney General Josh Kaul’s investigation into past clergy abuse cases in the state of Wisconsin by questioning his legal authority to conduct such an investigation, objecting to its lack of defined goals, and renouncing it as anti-Catholic targeting.
The 12-page letter was sent to the attorney general on June 1 and was signed by Frank LoCoco, a partner at Husch Blackwell.
LoCoco’s letter said for the past two decades, the archdiocese has been willing to cooperate with any sexual abuse investigation against one of its living priests. However, many of the files Kaul is asking for date back more than 30 years. This practice of cooperating with investigating authorities will continue if the Attorney General’s investigation uncovers new allegations against living priests, the letter states.
“If you were to receive the name of an alleged perpetrator from the ranks of (the Archdiocese’s) living diocesan priests, then that information should of course be forwarded immediately to the District Attorney for the county in which the abuse allegedly occurred,” LoCoco writes. “As we discussed and agreed during our meeting, there is no legal basis to undertake any investigation related to alleged abuse by now-deceased (Archdiocesan) priests or any other deceased alleged perpetrators.”
If there are new allegations against a living person, the archdiocese has said it will provide any information that is requested. This will assist with protecting victims while maintaining the rights of the Church and avoiding unnecessary expense.
In his “Love One Another” column on the same day, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki reiterated his pastoral concern for past victims of abuse by clergy.
“We can never apologize enough, and I am so sincerely sorry for what happened to these individuals,” he wrote. “The abuse they suffered was not their fault. It was the fault of criminals who used the sanctity of the priesthood to commit crimes, and I am sick to my stomach when I think about it.Regarding historical cases, LoCoco points out the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars compiling a detailed list of clergy with substantiated sexual abuse allegations that is accessible to the public on its website at archmil.org/clergy-abuse-response/restricted-priests.htm. He also pointed out that the Archdiocese has also posted thousands of pages of documents from the files related to allegations of abuse along with timelines and chronologies for each of the clergy listed on the public website.
In the two decades since clergy sexual abuse came to light nationally, the Catholic Church has put in place many measures to addresses and prevent sexual abuse. Among the action items the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has taken are the training of more than 100,000 staff and volunteers in sexual abuse prevention, conducting criminal background checks, providing counseling for victims and creating an independent reporting system.
Archbishop Listecki also acknowledged that “while the Archdiocese has done a lot, we can and should do more, and that includes cooperating with the Attorney General in any proper inquiry he might undertake.”
“As such, we will once again voluntarily provide access to documents and information on any living individual against whom a new allegation is made,” wrote the Archbishop. “This is already our practice and, if there are any new prosecutable crimes, the Church will offer its assistance.”
“The majority of these former clergy members are deceased and therefore not subject to criminal investigation or prosecution,” writes LoCoco, who goes on to point out that in 2011, the archdiocese (as well as independent lawyers and victims’ advocacy groups) spent more than $1 million providing notice to potential victims to file proofs of claim.
Of those claims, 99 percent predated 1990, making the majority of cases more than 30 years old. The files are under permanent seal and cannot be made public, by order of the Bankruptcy Court.
Archdiocesan files have been reviewed four times during the past 30 years, including by two judges, the Milwaukee County district attorney and a firm of former FBI agents that made sure no allegations had gone uncovered.
Kaul made headlines in late April when he called a press conference on the steps of the State Capitol building in Madison to announce that he was opening an investigation into clergy abuse cases throughout the state.
Kaul’s investigation is utilizing a toll-free telephone line as well as an online reporting tool to solicit information about current and past abuse.
During the press conference, Kaul acknowledged that “some of what we are going to be talking about is historical.”
The letter from LoCoco also expressed concerns the investigation “improperly targets the Roman Catholic Church and appears to be a product of anti-Catholic bigotry.”
Kaul never referred to any other religious group by name during his press conference, but referenced the Catholic Church on several occasions. The investigation has been represented widely in the media as “an investigation into the Catholic Church,” including during a Wisconsin Public Radio interview on May 10 featuring the Attorney General, who stated that his initial request for documents was only to Catholic dioceses and religious orders.
Archbishop Listecki signed on to the legal letter’s assertion the Church is being unfairly singled out by this investigation.
“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.”