The Freedom From Religion Foundation welcomes a milestone in the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s statewide investigation of clergy abuse.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul today announced that former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick will be charged with fourth-degree sexual assault of an 18-year-old man in Lake Geneva, Wis., in 1977. McCarrick, formerly archbishop of Washington, D.C., became the highest-ranking Roman Catholic U.S. official to face criminal charges of sexual abuse when he was accused in 2021 of sexually assaulting a teenage boy in Massachusetts back in 1974. He was defrocked in 2019, a year after multiple allegations of abuse came to light, and is facing ongoing criminal charges for other allegations. The church reportedly became aware of his misconduct as early as 1994, yet McCarrick continued to ascend the ranks in the Vatican until secular reporters brought the abuse to light.
This is a welcome development because, while Kaul launched a statewide investigation into clergy abuse in 2021, the state’s investigation has been shrouded in secrecy and had seemingly slowed after the Archdiocese of Milwaukee reportedly refused to fully cooperate. Some other states have released bombshell reports on rampant abuse in recent years.
Decades of a lack of meaningful action by the church over unending scandals involving sexual crimes against children show the urgent need for outside investigations. Recently, a massive report on abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore painted a similar picture. The Baltimore report included an instance of a predator priest who brought a minor to Wisconsin and assaulted the child here, which seems similar to the new allegations against McCarrick. These interstate crimes, combined with the church’s history of transferring abusers to new jurisdictions, further highlight the urgent need for thorough and broad investigations.
One Wisconsin group dedicated to obtaining justice for survivors, Nate’s Mission, was previously told by a state DOJ official that “investigation is too strong of a word” despite Kaul referring to his efforts as an investigation up until that point. Indeed, Kaul has since used the word “review” rather than “investigation,” and in today’s announcement he referred to the “Clergy and Faith Leader Abuse Initiative.” While urging transparency from Kaul’s office over the “review,” Nate’s Mission just released a documentary on the culture of abuse within the Catholic Church.
“We know from other reports that the scope of abuse and cover-up by the church around the entire world has been staggering,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This development shows why an aggressive investigation is needed in Wisconsin — and in every state that has not yet completed one.”
In addition to supporting statewide investigations, FFRF has repeatedly called on the federal Department of Justice to open a nationwide investigation of clergy abuse, as has been done in several other nations. FFRF published the first book about widespread clergy sex abuse and will continue to fight against rampant abuse and cover-up that has historically and consistently been hidden under the shroud of religion.