Josh Kaul's clergy abuse investigation in Wisconsin is almost 2 years old. Here's what we know so far about the attorney general's work.

  • In US
  • 2023-01-31 12:01:02Z
  • By Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul speaks Tuesday, April 27, 2021, at the state Capitol about a Wisconsin Department of Justice initiative to review clergy abuse cases.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul speaks Tuesday, April 27, 2021, at the state Capitol about a Wisconsin Department of Justice initiative to review clergy abuse cases.  

MADISON - Nearly two years have passed since Attorney General Josh Kaul announced an investigation into instances of abuse by religious leaders in Wisconsin.

Since then, the Department of Justice has been collecting reports from survivors and others with knowledge of abuse.

Here's what we know so far.

How many reports have been made to the department?

The clergy and faith leader initiative has generated more than 250 reports from across the state, according to a spokesperson for the department. Reports so far have included 198 individuals accused of abuse, and 74 individuals who have reported abuse to law enforcement for the first time.

When was the investigation launched?

At the end of April 2021, Kaul announced the faith leader review flanked by a number of victims of clergy abuse and said the Department of Justice would request documents from the dioceses and religious orders as part of the investigation into sexual abuse.

The department has a team investigating each call made to the tip line, which so far has resulted in charges being brought in two counties against two men. Neither was affiliated with the Catholic Church or Catholic religious orders.

What happens when someone makes a report?

When individuals make a report to the hotline or online, they're connected with a victim services worker who can steer the survivor to resources if needed. Then each claim is looked into by a team of people across different specialties, who decide if the claim can be forwarded to local authorities.

What has it accomplished so far?

In May 2022, an arrest warrant was issued for 61-year-old Jeffrey Anthony Charles, who police say sexually assaulted a minor at a cabin in Douglas County between 2005 and 2010.

Charles served as the pastor for the nondenominational church Neighbors to Nations in Princeton, Minnesota, at the time of the assaults, but routinely traveled to his Wisconsin cabin with parishioners. He is accused of assaulting the victim four times over the course of five years, while the victim was between the ages of 3 and 7.

In February 2022, Remington Jon Nystrom, 33, was charged with one count of first-degree sexual contact with a child under 13 in connection with an incident that occurred in 2009. Nystrom was a counselor at a Mount Morris camp in Waushara County when, police say, he inappropriately touched a sleeping child. The camp is affiliated with the Moravian Church of America.

Two cases have also been handed over to Brown County investigators, but no charges have yet been filed there.

What about getting documents from the dioceses?

Kaul said in an interview last week he can't say if he will use subpoenas to get access to files held by Catholic dioceses in the state. He can't simply go in and demand general documents, he said.

"We need to have probable cause that the documents would contain evidence, chargeable criminal offenses," he said.

The dioceses have previously said they would only release information pertaining to living, active members of the clergy to the DOJ.

Is the Diocese of Superior disclosure going to change anything?

In November, the Diocese of Superior released a list of 23 credibly accused abusers, including one priest removed from the ministry in September over accusations from the 1990s. The Diocese said it did not plan on turning over any files or information regarding the priest, James Bartelme, to the department.

Kaul said his office is aware of the list and staff is following up on the information identified. One of the issues in that case, he said, is that the abuse occurred outside of the state's statute of limitations, which means charges may not be able to be filed due to the amount of time that has lapsed since the abuse.

"What I can say is that we're gathering all the information that we can and are committed to using the legal tools that are available where there is a sufficient basis to use those tools," he said.

Is this investigation only targeting Catholic clergy?

No, Kaul's investigation is accepting reports and tips relating to abuses of power in all types of religious institutions. So far, the charges stemming from the DOJ inquiry have not been related to Catholic clergy.

What do critics think?

Sarah Pearson and Peter Isely, members of the group Nate's Mission, said they still have questions, nearly two years after the announcement of the investigation. They want Kaul to be more aggressive in obtaining information from the dioceses.

Without taking more aggressive action, Isely said, Kaul isn't following through on the type of investigation he promised survivors before he launched the effort. There need to be subpoenas, he said, to obtain documents the dioceses have refused to make public in their previous disclosures.

While providing resources for survivors who report to the department is great, it shouldn't be the only action taken, Isely said.

"It's important, but not the primary role of the Attorney General or the Department of Justice," Isely said.

Pearson noted that Kaul said the Superior Diocese releasing its list was progress, but pointed out that internal investigation wasn't done by someone elected by the state to investigate crimes like these. The internal investigations by the Catholic dioceses in Wisconsin have been conducted by Defenbaugh & Associates Inc.

"Attorney General Kaul should be investigating this," she said. "Not an out-of state-firm from Texas."

Nate's Mission is named for Nate Lindstrom, who accused multiple priests at St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere of sexually abusing him in the 1980s. He died by suicide in 2020, nearly one year after the abbey stopped sending secret payments he received for 10 years.

When will the report be released?

No date is set for the release of a report, Kaul said. The department is still receiving information from its hotline, and Kaul said he hopes to receive as many reports as possible before he closed the hotline and releases a report. He declined to say if a report will be released in 2023.

How do I report abuse?

To file a report, call 877-222-2620 or use the online reporting tool at Both options provide the ability to file an anonymous tip.

The department is still accepting reports and said survivors have control of what happens after their report is received.

Laura Schulte can be reached at and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Josh Kaul's clergy abuse investigation at 2 years. What we know so far


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