Letter to John Gard

Assembly Speaker John Gard
State Capitol
Madison WI 53702

Dear Rep. Gard:

On behalf of our Wisconsin membership, our state/church watchdog group is writing to protest your ill-advised invitation to open the legislative session today with a homily from Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

As you must be aware, the Catholic Church, with its Wisconsin lobbying arm, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, is a powerful political presence in Wisconsin. On page two of his speech, the archbishop even made reference to this lobbying arm, “the 1.7 million Catholic citizens of Wisconsin, whose interests are so ably represented here by John Huebscher and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.”

The conference has already come out against a draft of legislation to rectify Wisconsin’s very unfortunate legal situation following two Wisconsin Supreme Court cases in the mid-1990s, which effectively killed civil lawsuits by clergy abuse victims. The highly visible presence of so many priests, with Dolan even addressing his speech to “Bishop Bullock” as well as the Assembly, amounted to a high profile advertisement for the power of the Catholic Church.

The Archbishop is under increasing scrutiny over the Catholic Church’s institutional cover-up of pedophile priests. As recently as this Sunday it was reported that he sent a letter of support to a St. Louis judge earlier this year on behalf of a priest facing sentencing for molesting a young boy. He has reneged on his offer to release the names of pedophile priests from the Milwaukee Archdiocese, drawing severe criticism from victims’ rights groups there. His vaunted dedication to being sensitive to “the young, the defenseless” rings a little hollow, as do the archdiocese’s motions to dismiss civil lawsuits against them.

He made references to Catholic lobbying positions, such as their die-hard antiabortion position (“respect life, from womb to tomb”), and coded opposition to humane stem-cell research (“new scientific technologies”). Your singling him out for the “honor” of being the first speaker to open the session conferred what amounts to a special lobbying status upon this sectarian spokesman.

Your press release even announced: “The Archbishop and the Legislature are embarking on new missions to better serve our communities.” Dolan echoed this thought when speaking of “collaboration between civic and religious leaders,” which we take as his encouragement to pass “faith-based initiatives” to fund churches and religious groups.

We regard this unparalleled opportunity for this religious institution with its many special interests to be singled out in this manner to be a possible breach of ethics. We are sending a copy of this letter to the Wisconsin State Ethics Board.


Annie Laurie Gaylor

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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