Wisconsin attorney general to investigate sex abuse by Catholic clerics

Cathedral of St Joseph the Workman La Crosse Credit Jonathunder CC 30 CNA Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman, La Crosse. | Jonathunder CC 3.0.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul will launch an investigation of sexual abuse in the state's five Catholic dioceses, and at least three religious orders.

In a letter addressed separately to the Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, La Crosse and Superior dioceses obtained by CNA, Kaul warned them that the state Department of Justice will be conducting a review, and convoked representatives to an online meeting to be held April 26.

"I am writing to inform you that the Wisconsin Department of Justice will be conducting a review of sexual abuse involving members of the clergy and other faith leaders in Wisconsin,"  said the letter signed by Kaul, a Democrat.

"I agree with many survivors of clergy abuse, and those who support and have advocated for them, that a review from our office is necessary to provide accountability and ultimately, healing. I hope you will welcome that review," Kaul stated.

"Please immediately take all steps necessary to preserve any documents or information that may be relevant to the review,” the letter added.

Kaul's letter called "appropriate representatives" to attend the online meeting, which will include "major religious orders in Wisconsin."  

"We plan to announce our review publicly soon after the meeting," the letter concluded.

At least 177 priests have been identified as abusers of minors in Wisconsin. Each of the dioceses in the state, except that of Superior, as well as the Jesuits and the Norbertines, have published lists of clergy with credible allegations against them. The Diocese of Superior is preparing its list and intends to publish it by the end of the year, after an investigation carried out by a Texas-based independent law firm is completed.

Local abuse victims and advocates welcomed the announcement, arguing that only a state-sponsored investigation can guarantee accountability from the Catholic Church.  

Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, told the Associated Press that the archdiocese is "interested in learning more" about the attorney general's plan so it can formulate a response.

Kaul's office did not respond to questions regarding if other private organizations or public schools would be included in the investigation.

With this announcement, Wisconsin will join at least 22 other states that have launched investigations into sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and others in position of leadership.

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