TO: David L. Lasee, District Attorney, Brown County
FROM: Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director
Re: Jury verdict against the Green Bay diocese for fraud in child sex abuse
We are writing to you as victim/survivors of childhood rape, sexual assault and abuse by clergy in Wisconsin and members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Founded in 1989, SNAP is the nation’s oldest and largest self-help organization for survivors of sexual violence by clergy and other religious figures, with over 10,000 members.
Yesterday, a jury in Outagamie County found that the diocese of Green Bay committed fraud by intentionally concealing and then placing in employment with children a known child sex predator, Fr. John Patrick Feeney. Feeney, who was prosecuted and imprisoned in 2004 is one of at least 50 clerics that Green Bay church officials have received credible and actionable reports of child sex abuse or misconduct on over the past decades. At least 16 of these offenders are members of the Norbertine religious order which is headquartered in the Green Bay diocese under the joint authority and supervision of the Green Bay bishop. This figure is derived from a national study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004 and is, unfortunately, the last and only known data available. The study, while commissioned by the US bishops, did not release any other information besides diocesan self-reported numbers of offenders. Since that time, it is likely that the number of offenders and offenses known to the diocese has increased.
Most of these offenders have never been reported to law enforcement. Although the diocese has repeatedly claimed that it has turned over a list of accused clerics to your office, your predecessor has indicated that this is not the case (see the attached 2008 email response to SNAP from former DA John Zakowski). A number is not much use to the public or to parents who are trying to protect themselves from those who have harmed children, especially individuals who have been placed in positions of occupational and professional trust.
Importantly, some of these offenders, like Feeney himself, even though their known offenses may have occurred years ago, can still be prosecuted under state law, if the church transferred the offender to assignments outside the state or allowed the offender to flee across state lines. Recent prosecutions of fleeing sex offender clerics in Milwaukee, Juneau, Walworth and other counties demonstrates that an active and aggressive approach to investigating child sex crimes by clergy is possible in Wisconsin. Yet, there are clerics, like Norbertine Fr. Edward Smith, who committed sex crimes against minors and others while working for the Green Bay diocese, who have for some reason yet to be brought back to Wisconsin to face justice (see attached 2008 SNAP letter to DA Zakowski).
In the wake of the jury’s decision concerning the fraudulent conduct of church officials, a full investigation of the scope and nature of child abuse in the Green Bay diocese is necessary and warranted. This is particularly urgent because top diocesan officials under oath in depositions testified to the wholesale and systematic destruction of criminal evidence of child sex crimes, including admissions by offenders in out of state church “treatment” centers, along with the evidence concerning the pattern and practice of fraud uncovered by the jury.
The diocese must be compelled to turn over to law enforcement and then release the identities and case histories of every cleric who they know has harmed minors, disclose where they are now living, what offenses they have committed, and who is now supervising these individuals.
Finally, we urge you to join us in continuing to reform Wisconsin’s criminal and civil statues on child sex abuse. Yesterday’s verdict shows the wisdom and urgency of passing the Child Victims Act, currently pending in the state legislature, that would eliminate the civil statue on child sex crimes and open a two year window for victims who have been denied justice under the current restrictions. And, what would surely alarm most citizens after the evidence unveiled leading to yesterday’s verdict, clergy must be made to join the 29 other professions in Wisconsin required to report all suspected incidents of child abuse, without the special exemption written for clergy under current state law which allows them to keep child abuse “secret” and supports the very fraudulent conduct displayed during the court of the trial last week.
SNAP Midwest Director
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Wisconsin Director
SNAP Green Bay Co-Director