Walworth County clergy briefed on sex abuse

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Kevin Hoffman
Thursday, July 7, 2011
— Walworth County District Attorney Phillip Koss led a public discussion about child abuse Wednesday with local clergy, nearly a month after a former pastor was charged with related crimes.

Koss dissected the state’s mandatory reporting law, describing methods for identifying and reporting abuse in the county’s churches and schools. Walworth County Sheriff’s Chaplain Charles Sweetman sent invitations to 147 churches and 24 Christian schools last month.

The meeting was scheduled for the sheriff’s office but moved to the judicial center because of the number of people who responded. About 70 clergy attended the 90-minute discussion.

“Why we’re here and teaching this law is to impress the importance of reporting (abuse),” Koss said. “Not to say, ‘ah ha!’”

Mandatory reporting became an issue in the county after Joseph R. Fultz, 46, of Walworth, was charged with five misdemeanor counts of failing to report child abuse or neglect. Fultz is a former pastor at Grace Evangelical Free Church in Walworth.

Six boys between the ages of 5 and 12 were performing sex acts on one another at various locations, one of which was Fultz’s home, according to a criminal complaint. Fultz told police he and other church officials agreed not to report the incident because of the age of the children, according to the report.

Fultz and his case were referenced just once before the presentation.

“We want to make sure nobody else gets caught in that position,” Sweetman said.

A portion of Koss’ presentation focused on privileged information. Clergy are not required to report anything told to them during confession, he said.

The group asked questions for about 20 minutes, several of which alluded to specific instances in conversations they had with church members. These ranged from minors having sexual contact with other minors to who is responsible for reporting incidents.

Koss said only a few people have been prosecuted for the crime during his 20 years in the county. He and Sweetman offered to make visits to churches and school to provide further education on mandatory reporting.

Sweetman planned to send out information to churches that didn’t have representatives at Wednesday’s meeting. About two dozen churches and schools were represented.

Koss reminded clergy that abuse and even Internet predators isn’t a problem unique to Walworth County

“(Offenders) have ranged from everybody, all economic and social classes,” he said. “It’s not a Milwaukee issue, it’s not a Madison issue, it’s not a Racine issue. It’s an issue everywhere.”

Last updated: 5:56 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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