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Madison Catholic Diocese hires detectives to probe clergy sexual abuse
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Madison Catholic Diocese hires detectives to probe clergy sexual abuse

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The Madison Diocese has hired private investigators to probe sexual abuse. Above, Catholic clergy members pass by the casket of Bishop Robert Morlino, who died Nov. 24, as they exit the sanctuary at the conclusion of the funeral Mass at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Madison.

The Catholic Diocese of Madison said Wednesday that private investigators have been hired to review personnel files in a probe of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

“The Diocese of Madison reaffirms its commitment to protect children and young people, as well as to be open and transparent with victims, faithful Catholics and the larger community,” the diocese said in a statement.

The Texas-based investigations firm Defenbaugh and Associates, founded by former agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has been hired to review the diocese’s documents dating back to 1964, the diocese said.

The Madison diocese said in January it was considering an effort to learn how many substantiated sexual abuse allegations have been made against priests and other clergy in Madison after the Green Bay Diocese announced more than 40 of its priests had abused minors.

If the investigation firm finds evidence that more Madison clergy members abused children, it will flag it for further investigation. The diocese said if any allegations are against current priests, deacons or seminarians, they will be immediately removed from the ministry. To date, seven priests from the Diocese of Madison have had “credible” accusations made against them, according to the diocese.

Peter Isely, founding member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said he was not allayed by the announcement of the outside review. “They’re just reviewing these now?” he said.

Isely also questioned the reliability of an investigation being done by a firm hired by the diocese.

Founded in 2002, Defenbaugh and Associates’ core staff is made up of former law enforcement and fire and rescue executives. Danny Defenbaugh, who worked at the FBI for nearly 33 years, will lead the review.

Isely’s group has asked Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul to investigate all of the state’s dioceses for sexual abuse and cover-ups after the Green Bay Diocese decided to withhold the names of some priests who abused minors.

Kaul’s office has said he won’t comment on SNAP’s request “given this relates to a potential investigation.”

Isely said the attorney general is the only one with the tools to investigate this adequately. He said 20 other states are investigating child sexual abuse by clergy members of the Catholic Church.

In its statement Wednesday, the Madison diocese said it would release “any names of those previously found by the diocesan Sexual Abuse Review Board to be credibly accused,” compile a list of other known past offenders and thoroughly investigate additional allegations.

“The diocese hopes to continue to build trust, to provide healing wherever possible, and to reassure the faithful of the Diocese of Madison that such matters have been and will continue to be dealt with appropriately,” the statement said.

The diocese said it has been “open and honest” in the past and made the public aware of all seven of its priests the board found to have been credibly accused.

In 2003, the names of five priests who had already been removed from the ministry — Archie Adams, Curtis Alvarez, Michael Trainor, Lawrence Trainor and Kenneth Klubertanz — were disclosed by the church, the diocese said.

Since then, accusations judged to be credible were brought forward against two more who no longer have ministries, J. Gibbs Clauder and Gerald Vosen, the church said in its statement.

In addition, the diocese said it has an open preliminary investigation related to a long-dead priest, who was not named, and a second open investigation against another — William Nolan, a retired Madison priest charged in May in Jefferson County with six counts of second-degree sexual assault of a child.

The charges stemmed from when he was a priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Fort Atkinson. According to a criminal complaint, a man told police he had a continuous sexual relationship with Nolan from 2006 to 2010 when he was between the ages of 13 and 16.

Isely said it is concerning that the Madison Diocese has found only six priests with credible allegations against them because that is below trends seen in other states.

“That alone should require vetting, and a full investigation by a truly outside, independent force,” Isely said.

Former bishop Morlino credited

The diocese credited former Bishop Robert C. Morlino with laying the groundwork for the personnel review weeks before he died in November at age 71. Morlino made a statement in an interview with the Catholic EWTN television network that every diocese in the U.S. should conduct such a review.

After Morlino’s death, diocesan administrator Msgr. James Bartylla and new Madison Bishop Donald Hying encouraged the hiring of a detective firm to conduct a comprehensive review of documents dating back to the diocese founding in 1946, the church said.

In January, spokesman Brent King said it has been diocesan policy since 2003 to make public credible accusations against clergy members.

That year, reports from five state dioceses — including Madison — listed 112 priests or clergy members with substantiated allegations of child abuse lodged against them and at least 323 claims of abuse, the Associated Press reported in 2004.

The Madison Diocese reported that 19 victims of sexual abuse came from four of its priests between 1950 and 2002, the AP reported.

Since that report was published and through Morlino’s 15 years as bishop, the Madison Diocese has put out public releases about all credible allegations, King said.

State Journal reporter Emily Hamer contributed to this report.


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Steven Verburg is a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal covering state politics with a focus on science and the environment as well as military and veterans issues.

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