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La Crosse Diocese urged to release more info on child sex abuse

December 5, 2011

The following story aired on Wisconsin Public Radio on December 2, 2011. 

By: Maureen McCollum

Audio link:  WPR- La Crosse diocese

(UNDATED) A national organization is urging the Diocese of La Crosse to release more information about priests who have been accused of sexual abuse.

In a recent interview with the La Crosse Tribune, Diocese of La Crosse attorney James Birnbaum said eleven priests had been accused of abuse since 2003. The accusers are adults who said they were abused more than 20 years ago. Birnbaum says the Diocese of La Crosse Clergy Child Sexual Abuse Review Board found that ten of those priests had either died or left the ministry, and they couldn’t confirm one case.

John Pilmaier finds this troubling. He’s the Wisconsin Director for SNAP, or Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. Pilmaier has sent an e-mail to La Crosse Bishop William Callahan urging the Diocese to release the total number of sexual abuse claims and names of priests accused of abuse. He says he just wants the Diocese to be open with information and level with people, “We don’t know how many, who they are, if they are still priests, still in the ministry. The Diocese simply has not been open and transparent about which members of the Diocese have hurt children.”

Pilmaier says if a priest is let go from the ministry due to an assault, they could get another job and the public would not know that person’s history.

It’s also unknown how may alleged victims have come forward in the Diocese.

Attorney Birnbaum was not available to comment on the story. A spokesman for the Diocese for the La Crosse did not respond in time for the story.

The following letter was sent to Bishop Callahan asking him for clarification on the number of sex abuse reports in the diocese: 

December 1, 2011

To: Bishop William Callahan of La Crosse

From: John Pilmaier, SNAP Wisconsin Director (contact: 414.336.8575)

Re: Clarification of numbers of abuse reports/abusive clergy reported in today’s La Crosse Tribune story

I am sure you are aware of the article published today in the La Crosse Tribune titled “Diocese updates sex abuse policies”. In that article diocesan attorney James Birnbaum noted that since 2003 11 priests in your diocese have been accused of sexually abusing children. Mr. Birnbaum indicated that of those 11 priests, ten are either dead or have left ministry, and the diocese was unable to substantiate the allegation against the 11th priest.

In 2004 the John Jay College of Criminal Justice published their study of clerical sex abuse in the United States from 1950-2002. The diocese of La Crosse acknowledged in that report, that during those years the diocese had a total of 58 allegations of sexual abuse made against 28 priests of the diocese. Of those 28 priests the diocese substantiated sexual abuse allegations against 10 of them.

Mr. Birnbaum, in his interview, stated that since 2003 the review board has examined sex abuse allegations against 11 priests, and of those priests the diocese was not able to substantiate allegations against one of them.

It appears that Mr. Birnbaum has acknowledged that the diocese of La Crosse has received sexual abuse allegations against 11 additional priests since the submission of sex abuse statistics to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the data submitted in 2002 and eventually published in a 2004 report.

It seems clear from Birnbaum’s quotes today that there has been 11 additional priests with allegations reviewed by the board since 2003, 10 of whom have left ministry or are deceased who had reports of abuse that were substantiated by the board and 1 priest whose abuse report the board could not substantiate.

We are urging you to release the total number of sexual abuse reports that have been made to your diocese that were submitted in 2002 to the John Jay College, followed by the total number of reports the diocese has received since that 2002 submission.

Without clarification or confirmation, it appears that in total there are now reports of sexual misconduct that have been made against 39 priests in the diocese of La Crosse.


John Pilmaier

SNAP Wisconsin Director


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