Nate Lindstrom was killed on March 9, 2020. The coroner’s report is quite definitive as to who
killed him. Nate did. A self inflicted shotgun wound to the head. He was 45 years old.
Isn’t this case closed? Why, one year later, open up the question as to the cause of his death,
much less name a movement of justice after him?
Nate was a survivor of childhood sexual assault and abuse by Norbertines priests of the diocese
of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Of the trauma visited upon him as a child he was indeed a “survivor”.
But it would be wrong to think that this is what killed him. In spite of this childhood trauma, Nate
found a way to live, to love, to create. But he was also a victim — not a survivor — of the
centuries long machinery of criminal cover-up of abuse in his church, a cover-up that up until the
moment of his death entangled and entrapped him and his family, eventually destroying his
ability to think, to sleep, to work, to love.
The abuse machinery of the church was a vice Nate was placed into first by his offenders and
then a succession of Norbertines Abbotts and Green Bay Bishops. They were deliberately
tightening it in the final months of his life. There are many accomplices to Nate’s suicide which
you can read about: the priests who abused him, the Norbertines officials who tried to manage
and control his traumatized mind while protecting themselves from criminal and civil justice, the
church officials who washed their hands of him and shredded abuse files and, of course, the
endless bevy of corporate lawyers, spokespersons, spiritual experts, canon lawyers,
bureaucrats and functionaries whose investigations, reports and “risk mitigation” decisions built
the road, brick by brick, decision upon decision, upon which Nate carried his traumatized body
to its death.
The day Nate died his mother called the current Norbertine Abbot, Fr. Dane Redacki. You will
be reading about Fr. Redacki in these pages because Fr. Redacki was a central figure in Nate’s
life, one of the priests responsible for the men who abused him, and whose charge was to bring
Nate and his family what Christians call the “good news.” But this day it was the mother of a
dead son who was delivering news to Fr. Redacki. His chief concern? “Did he leave a note?”
He did. But you will not find this “note” in writing. You will find it in Nate’s life and the work of this
Mission, founded upon Nate’s commitment to the rights of children, the reform of state and
federal laws, the release and publication of all church abuse files, the healing and
memorialization of the lived experience of survivors through art and literature, the accountability
of church leaders involved in covering up sex crimes, and first and foremost — the opening of
state wide investigations and inquiries into abuse in the church by the people elected by the
citizens — the Attorney General of Wisconsin and elsewhere.
It’s tempting to assume that Fr. Redacki’s question to Nate’s mother was motivated by his
concern for his fellow Norbertines and their corporation.The Norbertines, or Premontarians, are
an ancient religious order that originated in the middle ages. They ended up in DePere
Wisconsin in the 19th century, built an Abby, a high school and a college. Everyone in the very
Catholic Green Bay area has some intersection with the Norbertines, often stretching back
generations. It’s not uncommon, if slightly exaggerated, to hear that in one way or another the
Norbertines “run the town”. But this is no exaggeration when it comes to the dozens of cases of
pedophile Norbertine clerics over many decades, including the ones that assaulted Nate and his
Thus, the question of the note is a question for the lawyers — what’s our potential financial
liability in Nate’s death? It’s a question one supposes any CEO has to ask. But was it the
question for a pastor to ask a grieving mother on the day of her son’s death? Perhaps, like
Thomas in the famous gospel story, the abbot simply did not believe her, had he so often
intimated in the past, repeatedly hedging about validating that her son was a victim of priest
abuse. Again, liability? He finally acknowledged Nate’s abuse in a public statement a few days
later in the face of withering criticism from the Green Bay community, confirmation from the local
district attorney, and hundreds of alumni from the Norbertine high school from which Nate
graduated in a signed and published open letter. Does it take placing one’s finger in the head
wound of the survivor to finally believe him or her?
It is the church machinery of cover up, as niave and incompetent as those operating it
sometimes are, that killed Nate. It supplied the weapon, the bullet, and loaded the cartridge —
the means, the motive and the opportunity. Everyone who heard the terrible news that Nate had
taken his own life immediately knew the cause. Everyone, that is, but the Norbertines who will
not admit to it, and anyone who once served or still serves the abuse machine, which is quite a
few people in Green Bay and elsewhere, many a luminary among them — blue ribbon judges,
politicians, corporate magnets, professionals with storied careers, and well endowed
philanthropists. As you can see in Nate’s case, just one among thousands, operating a decades
long cover up is expensive and complicated.
Among the many human bonds that defined his life, Nate was a father of three young children, a
husband, a brother, a son, a classmate. These personal and symbolic bonds were deep and
strong. They were bonds of love, family, loyalty and responsibility. What the leaders of Nate’s
church did or did not do to him eventually severed every single one of these bonds. Everything
that secured and tethered him to life. He joins, sadly, many survivors of clergy abuse around the
world, a crime whose incidents have an alarming and disproportionately high rate of self-harm.
That Nate underwent a particular kind of victimization as a boy, which he survived but led to his
death, tells you absolutely nothing about him — what he loved, what he hated, what his favorite
films were, what he dreamt of being when a kid when he grew up, whether he was good at
math, how nervous he was when he went on his first date, what he felt like when his children
would hug him goodnight. It tells you nothing of his value and importance to himself and others.
All it tells you is that he belongs to a group numbering tens of thousands of other childhood
survivors of clergy abuse around the world, an army of the vanquished which spans three living
generations and untold numbers across the centuries, and that each of them underwent an
experience that transgressed the limits of the body and the capacities of the mind. No matter
how often and how hard Nate tried to put it into words the catastrophe which had befallen and
engulfed him, there was something about it that resisted and defied words, something which
could not be shared with any other person through language or symbolization. It is the bringing
into speech of that which you have never said before that heals the trauma survivor. Nate never
found the words to say it. With Nate, as for many trauma survivors, this created in him
something in him that wanted to die. And he carried this part of himself as best he could until he
could no longer.
Abandoned by the church and state, Nate wanted only to bring the law to that hidden and
lawless place into which he was imprisoned so that no other child would suffer as he did before
he took his life. No one knows what justice is better than one who has endured its absence
because injustice has bitten so deeply into the soul. Nate never wanted to choose between his
love for his church and his love for justice. The Norbertines and their secular accomplices made
this choice an impossible one for him.
Nate’s story, indeed, all these church abuse stories that we have become so inured to over the
years with no end in sight, will remain like his — an unfinished one, a wound that will not heal —
until this infernal machinery of abuse and cover up is fully dismantled and abolished. This was
Nate’s deepest desire and our mission. Join us. Everyone is welcome. You will find on this
website steps and actions we can take together, in Nate’s memory, so that we might pass like a
new Exodus, into a post abuse church.
(Summary by Peter Isely, Program Director, Nate’s Mission and Founding Member of SNAP and ECA Global.)