Wisconsin launches confidential hotline to report child sexual abuse by clergy

Published: Apr. 27, 2021 at 10:15 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 27, 2021 at 5:48 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - A new statewide initiative promises to offer victims of sexual abuse by clergy members a confidential way to report the incidents and to investigate claims no matter how long ago they occurred.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul announced the new program, saying “the people of Wisconsin, and especially victims, deserve an independent review of clergy and faith leader abuse.”

In addition to a way for the victims to report abuse, the new initiative will provide confidentiality to those reporting that they witnessed, knew about, or suspected such abuse, as well as those who knew about any concealment by faith leaders.

“With this initiative, we are seeking to ensure that survivors of clergy and faith leader abuse have access to needed victim services, to help prevent future cases of sexual assault, and to get accountability to the extent possible,” Kaul added.

Anyone with information is asked to report the incidents online at SupportSurvivors.widoj.gov or by calling 1-877-222-2620.

Shortly after Kaul’s announcement the Diocese of Madison issued a statement indicating it discussed the new project with the Attorney General’s Office on Monday and it plans to review the proposal as soon as it is received.

“The Diocese of Madison takes the issue of sexual abuse of minors very seriously and based on its own, ongoing initiative remains vigilantly committed to providing healing to any victims and their families, and to fostering trust based on its diocesan safe environment policies spanning two decades,” the statement read.

The diocese also asked survivors of child sexual abuse to contact its confidential hotline, at 1-608-821-3162 and directed people to its Restoring Trust initiative that details its response to sexual abuse.

Kaul’s office noted it had also reached out to the state’s other four dioceses.

The Dept. of Justice explained it would act on the reports and collect documents and information from diocese and religious orders to conduct its investigations. It may also conduct follow-up interviews with survivors. If criminal action were warranted, the Justice Dept. said it would refer those cases to local law enforcement and district attorneys after receiving permission from the victims.

During the news conference, Kaul was flanked by the family of Nate Lindstrom. Lindstrom died by suicide in 2020 at the age of 45. His family says Nate was a victim of clergy sex assault at Notre Dame Academy in the 1980s. Lindstrom’s father says Nate received about $420,000 in payments from the Norbertines at St. Norbert Abbey over the course of ten years.

David Lindstrom said the payments were only made after he and his wife approached the abbey with the allegations. “My son contracted [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] when he was 14-years-old, lived with it until he was 45, and then as a result of his illness he died by suicide,” David Lindstrom said.

The Norbertines say they’ve investigated the Lindstrom allegations and found them “to be not credible.”

The organization Nate’s Mission has been pushing for the Wisconsin Department of Justice to review clergy abuse “and institutional concealment and misconduct.”

St. Norbert Abbey’s website lists 22 priests with credible accusations of sexually abusing minors.

“Such an initiative, demonstrates a profound commitment to all victims of sexual violence in our state” Nate’s Mission Program Director and founding member of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) Peter Isely said. “Most importantly, it is indicative of Attorney General Kaul’s commitment to follow the evidence wherever it leads. This means, not only examining the conduct of church officials, but every person who has been involved in this decades-long cover-up, including corporate lawyers, church-hired third-party risk mitigation firms, insurance companies who knew about the crimes, and law enforcement.”

Brown County District Attorney David Lasee will attend the announcement, according to the DOJ.

If you are ever in a time of crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

If anyone has an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor, call the local police and/or Child Protective Services.

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