As a member of the finance council for the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay until he resigned to run for Senate this year, Ron Johnson served alongside a bishop named Robert Morneau who, as a Church leader, had been made aware over two decades ago of the abusive tendencies of Rev. John Feeney.
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Rev. Feeney was convicted in 2003, before Johnson joined the council, for sexually assaulting two brothers in the late 1970s. But according to documents obtained by the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the Church sought to cover up his crimes, which one reverend called "sexually very inappropriate."
Seven years later, Johnson testified before the Wisconsin State Senate against legislation to eliminate the statute of limitations for such crimes, making it easier for victims of sexual abuse to seek damages from the Church or any other culpable institution.
The testimony first arose in the context of the race in a June article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and has been dogging Johnson more or less ever since. His connection to Morneau raises questions about how familiar Johnson (who is not a Catholic) was with the diocese's hidden scandals. Those questions couldn't come at a worse time for the GOP hopeful, who leads Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) in the polls ahead of the November election.
TPM contacted numerous attorneys, advocates, and other members of the finance council of the Diocese of Green Bay to explain the finance council's role at the church, and the information it was privy to with respect to sexually abusive clergy. What we learned suggests that it's very difficult to separate Johnson's role as finance committee member from his role as legislative witness seeking to protect the Church from future lawsuits, when he told the panel, "I urge you to defeat this legislation."