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Questions still remain after Clauder verdict

December 5, 2011

December 5, 2011 

Questions still remain after Clauder verdict

Statement by John Pilmaier, SNAP Wisconsin Director

CONTACT 414.336.8575

Although the jury could not agree on whether Fr. Joseph Clauder had committed these particular acts he was charged with, the District Attorney is to be applauded for bringing this case, knowing it was going to be a difficult and complicated undertaking, especially given the delay in reporting and the vast number of people, including several church officials, who had talked to the victim long before the police did.

Because most victims, understandably, do not come forward immediately, and if they do there is typically a delay in reporting, it is essential that victims and witnesses to any sexual assault find professional support and then report the crime to police and law enforcement. When the alleged offender is a person of influence and power in the community, not just in one’s family, as was the case of the reported assault by Fr. Clauder, victims are easily intimidated and terrorized into not reporting.

We know why victims don’t report being sexually assaulted or delay reporting the crimes to police. Hopefully, the recent child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State and the much longer and acute crisis of clergy sexual crimes in the Catholic church–whose vast dimensions are still being uncovered–is educating victims, witnesses, and the public that only a timely criminal justice intervention will stop most predators from committing further crimes.

Disturbing questions, besides the problems with reporting, remain with this case. Why has it taken the Madison diocese, after nearly 20 years of reports of sexual misconduct against Clauder—reports which include abusing both vulnerable adults and minors—so long to conclude he should not be a priest. Yet even with the unusual step of his own bishop wanting him out of the priesthood, Clauder today still retains the official occupational title of a Roman Catholic priest because the Vatican, located thousands of miles away and with little expertise in sexual abuse cases, has the final decision on Clauder.

That is why nearly two years ago, after it was learned that Bishop Morlino was forwarding more recent reports of sex crimes by Clauder and other priests to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and not to local law enforcement, SNAP urged Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Von Hollen to look into how the diocese was handling these cases. Shouldn’t the local police and district attorney investigate child sex crimes in Wisconsin and not some Italian monsignor in Rome?

Just last month a priest in Minnesota was criminally convicted of the very sexual misconduct Clauder admitted to in the diocese 20 years ago while he was a chaplain in a Madison area hospital. Regardless of what the outcome of this recent trial would have been, if Clauder had been in any other licensed or credentialed occupation in the state of Wisconsin—a teacher, a psychologist, a social worker—the sexual misconduct reported against him years ago, against adults alone, would likely have been sufficient under Wisconsin law to permanently remove him from practice and he would have been arrested under the state’s sexual exploitation by a therapist stature.

The entire Clauder saga is a cautionary tale: it must be the police, and only the police, who should be investigating sex crimes–not bishops, priests, church officials and corporate lawyers—all of whom have an obvious conflict of interest, no matter what their motives. Although diocesan officials did testify in this case, or likely face subpoena, by the time police had talked to the victim, witnesses, and gathered evidence, all kinds of priests and interested parties had been to the crime scene first.

And that, just like Penn State, has to change.

SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our national website is  

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