“The archdiocese will voluntarily provide access to documents and information on any living individual against whom a new allegation is made. This is already our practice and, if there are any new prosecutable crimes, the Church will offer its assistance in seeking justice,” Topczewski said.
“There has been one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a diocesan priest since 2000. This reinforces the historical nature of these crimes and indicates that education and prevention efforts are effective,” he said.
Four of the state’s five dioceses, as well as the Jesuits and the Norbertines, have already disclosed the names of priests credibly accused of sex abuse. The Diocese of Superior is gathering its own list with the intent to publish it by the end of the year.
In total, 177 Catholic priests have been identified as credibly accused of abusing minors - though the incidents took place as far ago as the 1950s. Some of the accused priests themselves died decades ago.
The Milwaukee archdiocese’s attorney Frank LoCoco responded to the attorney general’s announced plans in a June 1 letter. LoCoco similarly emphasized Catholic efforts to investigate and prevent abuse, but also suggested the attorney general’s efforts were “unlawful” given that many records are under court seal.
LoCoco noted that the archdiocese has already made public on its website the documents and chronologies related to the clergy listed as credibly accused of abuse. He cited trends in sex abuse claims which indicate that sex abuse by clergy peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, then declined significantly.
Of the 578 claimants who filed claims against the Milwaukee archdiocese, 99% of them involved allegations that predate the year 1990, he said.
Topcziewski argued that the Catholic Church has taken effective action against sex abuse, and its recent record shows this.
“Over the past 20 years, no institution in the United States has done more to combat the evil of this societal issue,” Topcziewski told CNA. “We know there have been mistakes made in how some cases were handled in the past, but today the Church has become a model of how this issue is addressed, including oversight, safe environment and prevention.”
“The Catholic Church is the largest provider of Safe Environment programs in Wisconsin and this mandatory education means nearly 100,000 individuals have been trained to recognize potential abuse/abusers and have heightened awareness of this societal scourge,” he said.
LoCoco said that many of the archdiocesan records remain under seal due to both previous bankruptcy court proceedings and abuse survivors’ own decisions to file their claims under seal. The Office of the Attorney General received a copy of the relevant court order in 2011.
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“Fewer than 5% of the claimants, a total of 28, filed their Proofs of Claim on the public docket,” LoCoco stated. “The remaining claims were filed under seal based on the Bankruptcy Court protections. Even today, these proofs of claim remain under seal and cannot be made public as required by the final, non-appealable order of the Bankruptcy Court.”
LoCoco cited an effort in 2012 to release some statistical information from the records “because certain lawyers such as Jeff Anderson and certain advocates such as Peter Isely had made irresponsible and untrue allegations that children were at risk within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”
During a bankruptcy court hearing which rejected these claims, former Chief Judge Susan Kelley said her review “shows there is no public safety concerns with those claims – none whatsoever. The claims are old, the claims are by these known abusers with very few exceptions.”
LoCoco said there have already been significant financial expenditures to investigate abuse in the Milwaukee archdiocese, as well as to find potential victims.
During the Chapter 11 proceedings, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee produced some 60,000 pages of documents for the lawyers representing abuse victims and the official committee of unsecured creditors, which then chose the documents to be made public. The document review cost the archdiocese some $600,000.
The archdiocese spent “several hundred thousand dollars” to provide notice to abuse survivors to file a claim before the Feb. 1, 2012 deadline established by the court.