MILWAUKEE - The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is refusing to turn over documents to state investigators who are looking into clergy sexual abuse in Wisconsin's five Roman Catholic dioceses, warning Attorney General Josh Kaul that the records are sealed and that Kaul lacks the authority to initiate such an investigation.
Kaul, a Democrat, announced the investigation in April, following the lead of officials who have launched similar investigations in 22 other states. Kaul said he wanted to paint the fullest possible picture of sexual abuse that occurred within Wisconsin's Catholic churches.
The archdiocese on Thursday released a letter its attorney, Frank LoCoco, sent to Kaul on Wednesday. LoCoco wrote that the archdiocese won't comply with state Department of Justice's requests for documents about abuse because the records were sealed as part of the archdiocese's 2012 federal bankruptcy case.
LoCoco noted that for nearly 20 years, the archdiocese has been posting online the names of all clergy who faced substantiated abuse allegations and that the vast majority of the allegations date back to incidents in the 1960s and 1970s. Survivors have had years to file claims against the archdiocese and the archdiocese has implemented anti-abuse training for hundreds of employees and public safety is not at risk, he wrote.
LoCoco also argued that Kaul lacks the authority to launch such an investigation, saying sexual abuse cases are the purview of local prosecutors. He accused Kaul of targeting the Catholic church and being biased against Catholicism, which he said would violate the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause.
"Having worked with Abuse Survivors for the past 30 years, it is the (archdiocese's) experience that conducting an investigation like the one proposed here will not lead to ‘healing,’" LoCoco wrote. "Rather, it will lead to to the further victimization of those who have already suffered significantly. ... There is simply no benefit to your office attempting to conduct this type of unwarranted investigation in the absence of any legal authority and in the absence of any defined and reachable goals."
LoCoco did offer a compromise of sorts, saying that if Kaul learns of any new allegations against any living priests within the archdiocese and provides that information to the archdiocese, it would grant him and local prosecutors access to any available information about them.
Kaul's spokeswoman, Gillian Drummond, responded with a message from the attorney general Thursday afternoon.
"Our independent, statewide review of clergy and faith leader abuse seeks to provide a measure of accountability, the opportunity for healing, and to help prevent future cases of abuse. We’re disappointed that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has declined the opportunity to cooperate in that effort, but our review will continue to move forward. We encourage anyone with information about clergy and faith leader abuse to report online at supportsurvivors.widoj.gov or by calling 1-877-222-2620."
Clergy abuse survivor advocate Peter Isely says if there is nothing to hide — then show it.
"My first response is what’s so special about the Milwaukee Archdiocese, that they don’t want law enforcement — it’s a dramatically anti-law and order, law enforcement, response," said Isley of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
The Milwaukee Archdiocese says it will cooperate when it comes to new allegations against a living person, but that the matters being reviewed are decades old, reviewed many times, including by county prosecutors.
In a statement, the chief of staff for Archbishop Jerome Listecki said the diocese has offered a way to provide the information the attorney general has requested, while maintaining the rights of the church, avoiding wasteful expenses and holding perpetrators accountable.
"If you have done such a great job and you have all this evidence about what a great job you’ve done, then why wouldn’t you want to demonstrate that to the attorney general?" Isley said.
Associated Press contributed to this story.