A Milwaukee Archdiocese announcement that it does not intend to fully cooperate with the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s investigation into church sex abuse and cover-up underscores the need for the probe — and for increased church transparency.
Archdiocese attorney Frank LoCoco in a letter to the DOJ even lambasted the investigation as “a product of anti-Catholic bigotry."
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul initiated the investigation in April, after FFRF and many other groups urged the office to follow the example of the some 20 states that have launched probes of similar cover-ups. The Wisconsin investigation is not limited to Catholic churches. Other states and countries investigating clergy sex abuse have consistently found that many church officials knowingly sheltered abusers for decades without reporting the abuse to police. This pattern shows a clear need for secular intervention.
“If the archdiocese wants to prove it is protecting children, rather than abusers, it would willingly turn over its records, as other archdioceses have done around the country,” points out FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, who wrote the first nonfiction book exposing the crime of clergy abuse of children, published by FFRF in 1988. “Now it just looks like the archdiocese has something to hide.”
According to the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel, Archbishop Jerome Listecki emailed congregants about his agreement “to cooperate with any investigation into living members of the clergy brought forward during this inquiry. . . . Instead of focusing on past abuse, Kaul should be investigating new claims.” The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, however, documented how the Church kept a literal “playbook for concealing the truth,” with seven specific steps. Covering up crimes is itself criminal. By refusing to fully comply with the investigation, the Church is showing its true colors.
The archdiocese, in filing bankruptcy, made a $21 million settlement with 330 victims in 2015, and both Listecki and LoCoco claimed they released names of abusive clergy.
In a bit of irony, the Milwaukee Archdiocese claims that the DOJ investigation violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it disfavors Catholicism. This is not only false — the DOJ investigation has an obviously justified secular purpose of combating child sex abuse — but in reality, Catholicism is vastly overrepresented in all three branches of the federal government. At least six of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices are Catholic. President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are both Catholic.
Crucially, the archdiocese’s refusal to cooperate shows just how overdue the DOJ investigation is. While Pope Francis has been paying lip service to changing what he called a “culture of abuse” throughout the church, many church leaders are clearly committed to hiding, and perhaps even perpetuating, that culture. The archdiocese’s attitude toward the probe is further confirmation.
If you have information about clergy sexual abuse in Wisconsin, you may contact the confidential DOJ hotline at 877-222-2620 or visit supportsurvivors.widoj.gov.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.