ALLOUEZ — During a press briefing Jan. 17 to announce the release of 47 names of priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, Bishop David Ricken apologized to victims-survivors.
“The release of these names may open up old wounds and create new hurt,” he said in his opening statement. “For this I am profoundly sorry. But I want to recognize the victims-survivors for their strength over the years in coming forward to tell their stories. The hurt they endured at the hands of their perpetrators cannot be undone. I could apologize, but more importantly, I need to show them through action that we are being open and addressing this issue head-on.”
Bishop Ricken also said the priorities that were outlined in the seven “Action Steps to Accountability,” which were published Sept. 7, 2018, in The Compass, still remain.
“The victims-survivors and their families are my greatest concern,” he said. “To all of the victims-survivors and their family members, please know that you will be in my prayers, especially in these coming days.” Bishop Ricken invited abuse victims “who have been suffering in your pain and silence” to come forward and share their story, either with the diocesan Safe Environment Office or with Catholic Charities.
“With the disclosure of this list of clergy, a new chapter begins,” stated Bishop Ricken. “A chapter that is about openness, and a chapter that can set a course toward healing to all those who have been hurt by the church.”
Tammy Basten, diocesan chancellor, described how the investigative firm, Defenbaugh & Associates of Kaufman, Texas, was hired in late 2018 to conduct a review of diocesan priest and deacon files to identify allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. The final results were presented on Dec. 13 to the diocesan Independent Review Board, which recommended that Bishop Ricken release the list of names, she said.
“This list includes diocesan priests … directly accountable to the bishop,” said Basten. “Priests who are part of a religious order, such as the Norbertines or Franciscans, are accountable to their superiors within the order.”
Basten said that when the diocese receives an allegation of abuse by a religious order priest, “this information is immediately turned over to the religious order, which is also responsible for contacting authorities and investigating the priest.” The diocese also encourages the alleged victim to contact law enforcement authorities, she said.
Basten also said that the diocese has “strongly recommended” to religious orders serving in the diocese that they complete a full review of their own priest files “with the objective to release the names of the priests publicly who have had a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.”
Fr. John Girotti’s role as vicar for canonical services involves undertaking internal investigations of priests accused of sexual abuse. He told reporters that the diocese follows the directives set out by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in their 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
“All allegations received by the diocese are taken seriously and investigated as thoroughly as possible,” he said.
“It is important to state that there are currently no known priests serving in active ministry in the Diocese of Green Bay who have had a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them,” said Fr. Girotti.
The list of names is divided into two sections, said Fr. Girotti. The first list includes names of 37 diocesan priests with substantiated allegations investigated while the priest was alive, or who had multiple substantiated allegations received and investigated after the priest’s death.
The second section includes names of 10 priests against whom a single substantiated allegation was received after the priest’s death. Fr. Girotti added that only 46 names would be publicly released because of a pending legal review of one case. He added that the number of people abused by the priests totaled 98.
“The majority of the priests whose names are on the list are already deceased,” Fr. Girotti said. “Of those still living, some have been civilly tried and convicted. Others were unable to be prosecuted civilly because of statutes of limitation in civil law. However, the diocese turned over each and every name to the district attorney of the county where the alleged abuse had taken place. Additionally, all priests still living, whose names are on the list, are permanently removed from ministry.”
Fr. Girotti added that victims-survivors and their families are the diocese’s greatest concern. “It is important for us to remember that in the midst of all of this, a child was hurt. Children were harmed and this must never happen again,” he said.
In closing remarks, Bishop Ricken said that, while the past cannot be changed, “we can only learn from it and pledge to never repeat it.”
“I pledge, as shepherd of all of the souls in the 16 counties that make up the Diocese of Green Bay, that we will practice openness. We will continue to turn over all substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor to the proper civil authorizes for investigation and we will continue a zero tolerance policy of any abuser reported,” he said.
Bishop Ricken offered several action steps that will begin or continue in the diocese. The first step will be two workshops offered by Catholic Charities in conjunction with Trauma Recovery Associates of Portage, Mich.
“We will conduct two workshops for area parish personnel, spiritual caregivers and mental health professionals and practitioners,” he said. (See story about the workshops on page 6.)
Bishop Ricken said the diocese will continue holding its annual healing prayer services for victims-survivors in April, as well as special retreats hosted by Journey of Hope.
“We will walk with all victims-survivors known today and those who may come forward in the days and weeks ahead,” said Bishop Ricken.