Church whistleblowers provide Nate's Mission with list of over 200 allegedly unreported abusive priests, 69 from Green Bay

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Peter Isely, front, speaks to media about the systemic coverup that has prevented victims from getting justice from the Catholic Church. Sarah Pearson, back, holds the box containing the relevant criminal evidence, which will eventually be left for Brown County District Attorney David Lasee.

GREEN BAY – Advocates have obtained thousands of reams of documents from whistleblowers inside the church that reveal over 200 allegedly abusive priests were kept secret across the five Wisconsin diocese, 69 of whom have associations with the Diocese of Green Bay.

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On Thursday, Peter Isely, program director of Nate's Mission, and Sarah Pearson, its deputy director, stood in the lobby of Brown County Courthouse,evidence in hand, with a message for Brown County District Attorney David Lasee: investigate their list of priests.

“We're here (in Green Bay), we were in Madison, in Milwaukee, because of these whistleblowers — church whistleblowers, people who are part of the church and have a conscience,” Isely said. “We're delivering criminal evidence of child abuse, widespread child abuse and corporate cover-up of that abuse.”

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When the advocates entered the Brown County District Attorney's Victim Services department on a frigid Thursday afternoon to deliver the information, they were told no case manager was available. The two were hesitant to leave the hundreds of pages of documents, brimming with the names of survivors, at the clerk window.

After they left the vicinity, a clerk from Victim Services took the documents. Isely and Pearson hope it will eventually get to Lasee's desk.

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Currently, a list of 50 names appears on the Diocese of Green Bay's public disclosure list of abusive priests, but fewer than five listed have ever been indicted for criminal felonies. More than twice that amount of names — the 69 additions — wait for litigious eyes in the box Isely and Pearson delivered on Thursday.

Peter Isely, left, and Sarah Pearson, right, wait to hear whether somebody from Victim Services will meet with them over the documents that list 69 priests associated with the Diocese of Green Bay as alleged sexual abusers.

“These victims have nothing. Their lives have been destroyed. Some of them can't work, can't do anything. But the guy that raped them? He's being taken care of by the religious order or the diocese,” Isely said. “For raping kids, their biggest punishment they get from the church, under their laws, is prayer and penance. Not time in prison. I thought prayer was a good thing. I didn't think it was a punishment.”

Green Bay was the second stop in a week to Wisconsin law offices. On Tuesday, Isely and Pearson turned over thousands of documents to the office of Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Among the papers handed over to Kaul's office was evidence that the Diocese of Green Bay supposedly destroyed filings in 2007, according to the advocacy group.

Then-Bishop David Zubik made prosecution of the clergy close to impossible when he chose to destroy those documents six days following the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision allowing victims of clergy abuse to sue church officials for fraud.

The documents contain alleged systematic cover-ups across the five state dioceses that incriminate powerful individuals, from Zubik to U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, who served on the Green Bay Diocesan Finance Council when key filings were destroyed.

Johnson has denied any knowledge of and involvement in the destruction of documents.

According to the advocacy group, the records show personnel reports, parish transfers (of allegedly abusive priests) and minutes from church leaders discussing tactics and strategies to evade prosecution.

“They destroyed criminal evidence. You try to do that and see what happens,” Isely said.

Peter Isely speaks with a clerk in the Victim Services department, hoping to speak directly with a case manager. Sarah Pearson, standing beside him, emphasizes to the clerk that this is criminal evidence.

In addition to the 69 additional names Nate's Mission has records for in Green Bay, Pearson said they have evidence incriminating 218 more priests associated with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee lists only 48 names on their current page of restricted priests, meaning there could potentially be a discrepancy of 170 priests.

In response to these new allegations of abuse, Justine Lodl, communications director for Diocese of Green Bay, released a media statement acknowledging the press release announced by Nate's Mission but reserving any further comment at this time. The Diocese of Green Bay emphasized, however, the importance of protecting children and vulnerable adults.

“The diocese has, over the past several decades, implemented a variety of tools to ensure the safety of every person in the diocese, including background checks, rigorous safe environment training and education, mandatory reporting mechanisms and outreach to survivors of abuse,” said the statement.

To this, Isely wants to know where the 69 lost offenders in the Dioceses of Green Bay are. And Pearson said statements like this are hollow and often repeat “the same five sentences” without showing true accountability.

A box filled with criminal evidence against 69 priests associated with Diocese of Green Bay awaits a case manager. Peter Isely, program director of Nate’s Mission, wrote Brown County District Attorney’s name on the envelope.

“That statement doesn't seem to address that they're hanging on to this secret list of people they've concealed from the Catholic community in Green Bay. That's not addressed in their statement,” Pearson said. “They've shown us how trustworthy they are. You look through these documents and it doesn't really seem like a safe environment.”

In August, Kaul announced that two cases were reported directly to the Brown County District Attorney's Office. One case was current, and the other was from a few decades ago, according to the Sexual Assault Center of Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin.

Isely said he hopes that Lasee “puts the heat up” on the Diocese of Green Bay with this new information, which contains several decades worth of accusations from victims.

And even as the window for some of the cases has closed, a result of the state's statute of limitations, which limits a victim of child sexual assault to press criminal charges once the victim reaches 45, there are still so many that are active, prosecutable cases.

“We'd love to be proven wrong,” Isely said. “I'd be so happy to be wrong about this. But I don't think so.”

Advocates with Nate's Mission encourage any other whistleblowers to come forward with information. They can contact the information through the website.

“We'll get this to the right people,” Pearson said. “There's a reason people trust us with this.”

MORE: Afghan refugees in Green Bay make harrowing escape from Taliban, receive Catholic Charities help to resettle

MORE: 'We shall overcome someday.' Brown County event commemorates MLK while many still wait for dream to come true

Natalie Eilbert is a government watchdog reporter for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. You can reach her at neilbert@gannett.com or view her Twitter profile at @natalie_eilbert.

This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Advocacy group delivers new clergy abuse evidence to Brown County

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