Advocacy group says it has new evidence of clergy abuse


GREEN BAY — Lawyers say they have obtained thousands of documents from whistleblowers inside the church that reveal more than 200 allegedly abusive priests were kept secret across Wisconsin’s five dioceses, 69 of which have associations with the diocese from Green Bay.

On Thursday, Nate’s Mission program director Peter Isely and assistant director Sarah Pearson stood in the lobby of the Brown County Courthouse with a message for Brown County District Attorney David Lasee: investigate their list of priests.

Isely did not show the Green Bay Press-Gazette the contents of the package or any of the documents to allow the newspaper to independently verify the organization’s claims.

“We are here (in Green Bay), we were in Madison, in Milwaukee, because of these whistleblowers — church whistleblowers, people who are part of the church and have a conscience,” Isely said. “We provide criminal evidence of child abuse, widespread child abuse, and corporate cover-ups of that abuse.”

Nate’s Mission, an organization that lobbies for a full account of clergy abuse in Wisconsin, is named after the late Nate Lindstrom of Green Bay, who accused several priests at St. Norbert’s Abbey of abuse. Lindstrom received $420,000 in secret payments from the Catholic order over 10 years until the Abbey stopped sending checks in 2019. He died by suicide in 2020.

Currently, a list of 50 names appears on the Diocese of Green Bay’s public disclosure list abusive priests Isely says 69 more priests are on the list.

Green Bay was the second stop in a week to law firms in Wisconsin. On Tuesday, Isely and Pearson turned around thousands of documents at Attorney General Josh Kaul’s office.

Among the papers turned over to Kaul’s office is allegedly evidence that the Diocese of Green Bay destroyed the documents in 2007, according to the advocacy group.

The decision to destroy the documents, made by then-Bishop David Zubik, prevented prosecutors from pursuing criminal investigations into the clergy, a statement from Nate’s mission said.

According to the advocacy group, the documents contain alleged systematic cover-ups in the state’s five dioceses that incriminate powerful individuals, from Zubik to U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, who served on the Green Bay Diocesan Finance Council when the key documents were destroyed.

Johnson denied any knowledge of and involvement in the destruction of documents.

According to the advocacy group, the records show staff reports, parish transfers (of allegedly abusive priests) and minutes of church leaders discussing tactics and strategies to evade prosecution.

In addition to the 69 additional names for which Nate’s mission has records in Green Bay, Pearson said he has evidence for 218 other priests associated with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee only lists 48 names on its current page of restricted priests, which means there could potentially be a gap of 170 priests.

In response to these new abuse allegations, Justine Lodl, communications director for the Diocese of Green Bay, issued a press release acknowledging the press release announced by Nate’s Mission but reserving further comment at this time. The Diocese of Green Bay, however, stressed the importance of protecting children and vulnerable adults.

“The Diocese has, over the past decades, implemented a variety of tools to ensure the safety of every person in the Diocese, including background checks, rigorous safe environment training and education, mandatory reporting mechanisms and outreach to survivors of abuse,” the statement said.

To this, Isely wants to know “where are the 69 lost offenders” in the dioceses of Green Bay. And Pearson said statements like this are hollow and often repeat “the same five sentences” without showing any real responsibility.

In August, Kaul announced that two cases had been reported directly to the Brown County District Attorney’s office. One case was current and the other was from a few decades ago, according to the Sexual Assault Center of Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin.

Isely said he hopes Lasee will “pressure” the Diocese of Green Bay with this new information.

RELATED: Wisconsin has launched a clergy sex abuse investigation. Here’s why, and what it means for victims, church leaders.

RELATED: First came the allegations of sexual abuse at the Abbey. Then secret payments. Then a suicide.

Natalie Eilbert is a government watchdog reporter for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. You can reach her at [email protected] or check out his Twitter profile at @natalie_eilbert.

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