“They’ve failed us,” clergy abuse survivors accuse AG of lack of commitment to investigating allegations

One year after the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office announced an initiative to investigate clergy abuse, survivors say AG Josh Kaul has failed them.
Published: Jun. 7, 2022 at 9:44 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - One year after the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office announced a new initiative to investigate clergy abuse, a group of survivors says Attorney General Josh Kaul has failed them. But the AG’s office says they are making progress on prosecuting church leaders.

Hope is what Peter Isely, an abuse survivor and Director of Nate’s Mission, felt one year ago as he stood alongside AG Kaul as he announced the new initiative to investigate clergy abuse crimes.

“I know how difficult its going to be for many of you to come forward again. I want you to know this time its different,” said Isely back in April 2021 as he encouraged survivors to come forward and report abuse to the AG’s office.

Fast forward to Tuesday, that hope has turned into frustration.

“He made promises about this and presented what he was going to do for people and especially to survivors,” says Isely.

Survivors of clergy abuse say the statewide investigation has gone cold, leaving them retraumatized after reliving the past. Survivor Patrick Noth says he was abused when he was 8 years old.

“Under the guise of first communion, he gave me a lot of wine, and he delivered me to a pedophile, and he raped me,” recounts Noth. “And then under the guise of first confession, he blamed me for what happened and told me it happened because I was gay.”

Noth says he reported the childhood abuse to AG Kaul’s office months ago, and when he asked for an update, this is what he says they told him.

“What’s being done? This was promised to be an investigation into clergy abuse, right? They said maybe investigation is too strong of a word and said we don’t have the money,” says Noth.

On Tuesday, the AG was not immediately available for comment on that specific claim.

The group has more critiques for the AG’s office. They say AG Kaul has failed to retrieve documents and evidence, to get audits of church lists, and that they have failed in the criminal prosecution category as well. The group also says the AG’s office has failed to investigate senior church management and has not provided adequate whistleblower treatment.

According to a report released by the Department of Justice back in April of 2022, AG Kaul says since the initiative was announced a year ago, his office has completed over 200 reports of over 150 abusers with 51 people reporting for the first time. They say they have criminally charged two clergy members, one in Douglas County and one in Wood County.

The director of communications for the DOJ sent NBC15 this statement:

Wisconsin DOJ takes the Clergy and Faith Leader Abuse Initiative very seriously and is making real progress. A little over a year into the initiative, 2 cases have been criminally charged and over 200 reports have been made, including 51 that had never been made before. DOJ’s work on this initiative is continuing, and we encourage survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and faith leaders to report either through the online reporting tool, www.supportsurvivors.widoj.gov, or by calling the toll-free tip line at 1-877-222-2620.”

AG Josh Kaul

But this group says more needs to be done to turn frustration back into hope.

“They made a commitment to us. They made a commitment to us to follow the evidence,” says Sarah Pearson, Deputy Director of Nate’s Mission.

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