Abuse in the Diocese of Madison

candleOn August 21 I sent a letter to the Wisconsin Attorney General, Republican Brad Schimel, and to Dane County Democratic District Attorney, Ismael Ozanne, asking either or both of them to start an inquiry into sexual abuse of children in the Diocese of Madison. This was in response to Bishop Morlino’s letter that he wrote to the members of his diocese that dismissed the abuse issue as a problem of homosexuals being allowed to be priests. In it he pretty much said that virtually all the victims were boys who were abused by gay priests. His letter was in response to the release of a Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania in which it was discovered that more than 300 priests had abused more than a thousand children since the 1940s or 1950s.

This is the letter I sent to the Attorney General and District Attorney:

“With the recent release of the Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania implicating more than 300 priests of abusing more than 1,000 children (and likely far more), it seems that it is time to open a similar investigation here in Wisconsin. The Diocese of Milwaukee has already been in the news for the abuse of dozens of young people, but the same lens has not been applied to the Diocese of Madison. What the Pennsylvania Grand Jury (and others in New York and elsewhere) have shown is that there has been a culture of church superiors accepting and covering up crimes and improper behavior by priests under their authority. In every jurisdiction in which there has been an investigation or Grand Jury, evidence has shown crimes committed and covered up.

“Throughout the world there have been cases of child molestation in Catholic and other churches for decades. This is bad enough, but in most of these cases the crimes have been covered up and priests moved to other parishes and allowed to continue preying on innocent children. There have been at least 11 cases of Madison diocesan priests being publicly accused of sexual abuse. In the most recent case, that of Father William Nolan, the church was less than forward about what it may have known about and when. It is time to make sure that any crimes that have been committed that are still within the statute of limitations are prosecuted to the full extent, including the crime of withholding information and covering up the crimes of others.

“I don’t know what the process is for convening a Grand Jury, but am assuming that it must start with a District Attorney or the Attorney General of Wisconsin. I am copying both the Wisconsin Attorney General and the Dane County District Attorney on this e-mail and am pleading with one or both of you to embark upon this path of justice for any victims that are out there and still holding onto their secrets. The more time that passes the likelier that perpetrators will not be brought to justice due to statutes of limitation.

“I am an adult survivor of child sex abuse (not by a priest) and know the pain and scars that can result from this. I recently read about a Cardinal in New York holding children culpable by stating that by the age of seven they know right from wrong. I also saw and responded to a letter written by Madison’s Bishop Morlino that laid the blame for all child abuse in the church at the feet of Wisconsin’s gay population instead of looking inward and cleaning house. It is time to make sure that house is clean.

“My understanding is also that Grand Juries are secret, so I understand there may already be something in place or you may not be able to share with me if you do convene one. I simply ask that you consider doing so if it hasn’t already been considered.

“Thank you for your consideration.”

Neither the Attorney General nor the District Attorney have bothered to respond to my e-mail, even to acknowledge that they had received it.

Everywhere that an investigation has begun, whether in Boston back in the early 2000’s, Australia, Ireland, or Pennsylvania, it has been determined that sexual abuse of children (and adults) by priests was an institutional problem and that bishops and cardinals had interceded to protect the Church and not the victims. I am confident that an investigation into the Diocese of Madison would uncover some of the same institutional cover-ups that have been seen elsewhere.

I am not prepared to just let this go.

It may be that my letter was ignored because I didn’t present any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and I guess that would be understandable, though the courtesy of an acknowledgement of my letter or an explanation for why an investigation or Grand Jury is not appropriate would have been appreciated.

So what I’m doing next is looking for people who have been victims of sexual assault by priests, whether they be survivors who were young boys/girls or adult men/women, or transgender when it happened, and regardless of how long ago or how recent it may have been. I want to be able to go to the authorities and say, “Here are the stories of some victims who are willing to talk. There are bound to be many, many more. Are you now willing to look into this issue?”

I’m asking for any survivors of this type of abuse to contact me if you are comfortable doing so. I promise full confidentiality unless you specifically agree to allow your name to be used. I’ll present the details of your case without your name or identifying information. I’d like to be able to present the Attorney General and the District Attorney with at least a dozen stories, if not more. And, if that doesn’t get an investigation going, I have some more ideas. I can be contacted at charty@tds.net or via private message on Facebook.

If you are not a survivor, please feel free to share this with others. Unless they have come out as a survivor as I have, you cannot know which of your family members, friends, or others may be holding onto an awful secret.

Note: The Open Letter to Bishop Morlino can be found here:  https://callenharty.wordpress.com/2018/08/20/open-letter-to-bishop-morlino/

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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1 Response to Abuse in the Diocese of Madison

  1. Thank you for your courage and advocacy on behalf of so many. Peace, out.

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