Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Ron Johnson urged the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay to release names of clergy members suspected of child abuse Thursday.
Johnson previously sat on the diocese financial council and also represented the diocese in legislative hearings earlier this year.
Johnson said in a statement complete transparency is the only way to deal with sexual abuses in the church, and any “person or entity” that withholds information should be prosecuted.
“We need stronger penalties against anyone who preys on our children,” Johnson said. “They deserve the harshest sanctions the law will allow.”
Johnson’s Thursday stance came as a clarification of an earlier statement released by his campaign that a victim’s advocacy group did not think was tough enough on his former employer.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is requesting the Diocese release the names of 51 clergy members accused of sexually abusing children.
SNAP called on Johnson Wednesday in a press conference to take a more aggressive stance against the Diocese.
Originally, Johnson had only called upon the Diocese to be transparent when dealing with victims of sexual abuse in order to prevent child abuse in the future.
Peter Isely, a spokesperson for SNAP, said the group focused on Johnson because of his connection to the Diocese and his testimony against the Child Victims Act in January.
Johnson testified to the Legislature against the bill on behalf of the diocese and other groups when he was still serving on the financial council of the Green Bay Diocese.
The financial council is the most important group of advisers within the diocese, Isely said.
The bill, which stalled in the Senate, would have extended the statute of limitations for prosecuting perpetrators of sex offenses against children.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s opponent, incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold, sees the situation as an example of Johnson not being honest, according to John Kraus, a spokesperson for Feingold.
“(Johnson) lobbied against victims of abuse in order to defeat this legislation, period,” Kraus said in an e-mail. “In addition, he never asked for transparency when he served on Green Bay Diocese Finance Council. He also never asked for transparency when he lobbied against victims of abuse as a representative of the Green Bay Diocese Finance Council.”
Green Bay Deacon Ray DuBois declined to comment in an e-mail on campaign-related statements or issues.
DuBois did outline safety procedures in place at the Diocese to protect children in the church, including background checks, barring offenders from the clergy and mandatory reporting to law enforcement of “credible allegations.”
DuBois also said the most recent allegations are from 18 years ago, which shows the church’s commitment to protecting children now.
Johnson’s request for the names of clergy members suspected of abuse comes weeks after the Nevada Supreme Court denied a request from the Green Bay Diocese to dismiss a case involving John P. Feeney, a now-defrocked Green Bay priest who is accused of abusing a boy 23 years ago after being transferred to Nevada.
Feeney is currently in jail after being convicted of abusing boys in Wisconsin.
The Johnson campaign could not be reached for comment.