State DOJ has received more than 200 reports of clergy abuse after year of investigating

By: - April 21, 2022 6:15 am
Kaul - Clergy Abuse

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul announces a statewide investigation into clergy abuse in April 2021. (Screenshot | WisEye)

The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ), after one year of investigation, has received 204 reports of abuse by members of the clergy accusing more than 150 individuals of abuse, according to a news release. Allegations were made publicly for the first time in 51 of the reports. 

Last year, Attorney General Josh Kaul, along with the district attorneys of the five counties in which Catholic dioceses are based — ​​Brown, Dane, La Crosse, Milwaukee and Douglas — launched a review of historical and recent abuse by members of the clergy in all faiths. In the cases recent enough that the statute of limitations hasn’t expired, the allegations have been passed to local law enforcement. 

The reports to DOJ have come from survivors younger than 18 and older than 75 and include clergy and faith leaders from multiple religious organizations. In an update of the review in October, the department said 80% of the reports were allegations of abuse and the remaining 20% were complaints about how a religious institution handled an allegation. 

In Wisconsin, victims of child sexual assault older than 45 can’t bring criminal charges forward, and for civil cases, the ability to sue ends at age 35.

“I would like to say to survivors of clergy and faith leader abuse, we hear you,” Kaul said when announcing the review last year. “We know how important this is and the Wisconsin Department of Justice is committed to pursuing accountability and working to prevent future cases from happening.” 

Among the reports is an allegation against 33-year-old Remington Jon Nystrom, who is accused of inappropriately touching a sleeping 10-year-old while working as a counselor at the Christian Mount Morris camp in Wautoma in 2009. Nystrom was charged in February by prosecutors in Waushara County with one count of first-degree sexual contact with a child under 13. 

Mount Morris is affiliated with the Moravian Church of America. 

The report of the allegations against Nystrom hadn’t been previously reported to the church or law enforcement. 

Two other cases have been referred to the Brown County District Attorney. 

“For the first time ever — someone listened, someone cared, and most importantly someone shared the same level of care and compassion for not only my kids, but also for the betterment and safety of all children. For the first time my daughter had an advocate wanting to help at the highest level — so that wrongdoers could be held accountable, and justice was a possibility — not just a hopeful wish,” one reporting individual told the DOJ. 

When the DOJ receives a report of abuse, a victim specialist reaches out to the survivor to offer resources while a team that includes an investigator, prosecutor and a victim advocate assess the report to determine next steps — which could include further questions for the victim, obtaining documentation or referral to local law enforcement, according to the news release. 

Attorneys general in several other states, including neighboring Illinois and Michigan, have investigated clergy abuse. The investigations have been opened across the country after Pennsylvania completed a grand jury investigation in 2018 that found more than 300 “predator priests” and more than 1,000 victims.

After the review was announced, four of the state’s five Catholic dioceses highlighted the efforts undertaken to combat sexual abuse by clergy members. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee, however, questioned Kaul’s legal ability to conduct the review and complained that the Catholic church was being singled out. 

“Over the past 20 years, no institution in the United States has done more to combat the evil of sexual abuse of a minor than the Catholic Church,” Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff to the Archbishop of Milwaukee, said. “We know there have been mistakes made in how some cases were handled in the past, but today the Church has become a model of how this issue is addressed, including oversight, background checks, training, safe environment education and prevention, and outreach to abuse survivors.”

According to the news release, the DOJ is continuing to work with victims of clergy sexual abuse and reports can be made at www.supportsurvivors.widoj.gov or by calling 1-877-222-2620.

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.

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