Investigation finds 47 priests in Green Bay diocese with substantiated abuse allegations

    From left, Rev. John Girotti, Chancellor Tammy Basten and Bishop David Ricken of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay hold a news conference Jan. 17, 2019, to discuss the results of an investigation into clergy abuse allegations. (WLUK image)

    GREEN BAY (WLUK) - The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay on Thursday revealed results of its third-party investigation into its files on priests and deacons. The investigation was focused on finding any incidents of sexual abuse against minors by priests or deacons.

    “We have to win back trust, and we're really working hard at that,” said Bishop David Ricken.

    The diocese has identified 47 priests and released clergy names of 46 with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor on its website.

    “There may be other people out there we don't know about everything we know we're putting in this,” said Ricken at a news conference at Bona Hall on the diocese’s property in Allouez.

    All but one of the names were posted to the diocese's website. That one priest is challenging the allegations, so his name was omitted.

    The diocese hired Defenbaugh & Associates out of Texas last fall to investigate the files it has maintained on priests and deacons in its 157 parishes. The investigation looked into any credible accusations of sexual misconduct. That independent investigation followed the diocese's own internal review.

    “The names that were on the list were very close to the names we were already aware of almost to a name, that there were no surprises,” said Rev. John Girotti, Vicar for Canonical Services.

    The most recent offender was retired priest Richard Thomas, who was found guilty of exposing himself to a minor in 2016.

    During his court proceeding, Thomas told the judge, "I certainly am remorseful. I take full responsibility for what happened."

    Thomas is no longer involved in the priesthood. He is just one of 15 priests on the list who are still living.

    No current priests serving in the diocese had known substantiated allegations against them.

    All cases have been reported to local district attorneys' offices, in some cases years ago, diocesan officials said.

    Two clergy members were exonerated or had allegations determined to be unsubstantiated.

    Back in September, Ricken said the diocese was hiring an outside investigator to come in and look at all the files to make sure they had identified any priests with credible accusations against them. "We're going to invite an outside investigator to come in to look at all the files to see if we have gotten everything.

    The investigation was initiated following the revelation by retired Auxiliary Bishop Robert Morneau that he failed to report an incident of priest abuse against a minor in 1979. Ricken at the time said he believed that was the only case where Morneau did not come forward to report abuse allegations to civil authorities, and he was not aware of any other such incident.

    Ricken acknowledged sexual abuse of children is a widespread problem that needs to be better addressed.

    “It's not just the Catholic church, not just Catholic priests who do this sort of thing,” said Ricken.

    “This happens in schools, sporting events, families and in the church,” said Girotti. “We're hoping to be leading the culture of recovery in this way. That is our hope.”

    The task now by the diocese is to comfort the victims and show it’s dedicated to being more open.

    “In doing this we're hoping the families, too, have a sense of relief that now, at least, the parishioners will see at least we were telling the truth,” said Ricken.

    The diocese has set up new programs to assist victims of priest abuse, including a new Victims Assistance Team.

    FOX 11 reached out to SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, for comment on the diocese’s release of names and conducting an independent investigation, but we did not hear back prior to publication.

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