Abusive Priest Evades Justice
He Admits Molesting Boys, but Prosecution Is Unlikely
By Marie Rohde firstname.lastname@example.org
and Steve Schultze
Journal Sentinel Online
March 22, 2003
Related Coverage: Letter
(pdf): From Father Donald Buzanowski to a colleague; Letter: David
Schauer school essay; Letter: David Schauer
to Father Donald Buzanowski; Excerpt: From
a mother's journal; Transcript: Q&A
with Bishop Banks. [See also a timeline below
of Buzanowski's career.]
By his own admission, Donald J. Buzanowski molested 14 boys over a 20-year
period while working as a Catholic priest in Green Bay.
And for years, he kept it a secret.
Even after a close brush with the law in 1990 - when he was accused of
abusing a 10-year-old boy - his past remained hidden. Even after Buzanowski
launched a second career as a counselor for teens with drug and alcohol
problems in the Milwaukee area, no one knew the extent of his abuse.
|Justice Eluded: Father Don Buzanowski
It wasn't until last summer - as Buzanowski neared the end of his 21-month
sentence on a child pornography conviction - that the truth came out. The
pastor of an east side protestant church, where Buzanowski had been helping
out, wrote to ask if he had a history of sexual abuse of children.
"From my past, there is behaviors that might come out," Buzanowski
wrote back. "I did molest 14 boys between the ages of 14-17. This happened
over the years of 1969-1988."
Buzanowski's story provides an unusually vivid illustration of how one abusive
priest, aided by his status as a priest and by breaks from civil and church
authorities, repeatedly evaded detection over a period of many years. His
case reflects a pattern that emerged after the priest abuse scandal burned
like a brush fire through the Roman Catholic church in America last year.
Church officials, who say they didn't know the full extent of Buzanowski's
abusive history, didn't discuss the abuse allegation of the 10-year-old
boy with the principal or teachers at the school where it occurred, nor
did they contact anyone at other congregations and schools that the priest
Green Bay Bishop Robert Banks says the church followed its procedures to
the letter and would not do anything differently today. "Everything
that could be done was done," he said. "The Diocese of Green Bay
handled the case very responsibly."
David Schauer of Marshfield says he
was molested by Donald J. Buzanowski, a Roman Catholic priest, when
he was 10 years old and going to a Catholic School in Green Bay.
|Schauer is shown with his mother, Judith,
in a 1988 Christmas photo. That was the year of the alleged abuse.
Banks, who didn't come to Green Bay until late 1990, said the diocese
didn't try to keep tabs on Buzanowski after he was placed on leave in
mid-1989, even though Buzanowski "sacramentally" remains a priest.
Buzanowski was suspended in 1990 and was not supposed to wear a priest's
garb or act as a priest.
Prosecutors declined to press the 1990 case against Buzanowski because
they lacked evidence. But they found the boy's story convincing. Both
Banks and prosecutors believe Buzanowski would be treated differently
today by civil authorities.
Brown County and Green Bay law enforcement officials have launched a preliminary
investigation into Buzanowski's August 2002 letter, hoping to get the
names of abuse victims and learn whether church officials knew about the
allegations. But because the acts Buzanowski acknowledges occurred years
ago, prosecution is doubtful.
Buzanowski, 60, now on parole, has lived in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood
for the past few months. He works part time transcribing case files for
Wisconsin Correctional Service, a private social and court services agency.
He declined to be interviewed.
Boy's journal was clue
The journal entries of the boy in the 1990 case, David Schauer - along
with notes from his therapist; files from police, prosecutors and social
workers; and interviews with more than 50 people involved in the case
- provide an unusually clear look at the obstacles and heartache that
often shadow abuse victims and their families.
Schauer was a cheery boy of 10 whose disposition changed abruptly in fall
of 1988, said his mother, Judith Schauer.
"This boy, he lost his smile. There was no joy left in him,"
The alleged abuse of the boy came to light in early 1990 in a report by
a therapist who had treated David Schauer. Police were told that Buzanowski
had molested Schauer in 1988 during counseling sessions at St. Thomas
More, a Catholic grade school in Green Bay.
The abuse still haunts David Schauer, now 25, a financial planning assistant,
Air Force veteran and college student living with his wife in Marshfield.
"It just makes me feel so guilty and sick and that I came somewhat
close and I wasn't able to do anything," David Schauer said. He has
always worried that other kids may also have been abused by Buzanowski,
Buzanowski met with David Schauer six times in October and November, sometimes
pulling the boy from his fifth-grade class to meet in a private room on
another floor of the school building, David Schauer said. It was there
that Buzanowski molested him, he said.
A 1990 report by Brown County protective services said the boy had outbursts
of anger, mood swings, was listless and got poor grades in school. Judith
Schauer urged David to go back to see Father Don, something she now deeply
The problems continued, so the family went for counseling, and David began
keeping a journal. When Judith saw a journal page dated Jan. 19, 1990,
left open in David's room, the words hit her like a thunderbolt.
"Three years ago I would have gotten on the 'A' honor roll, but my
life sank after getting treatment from this so-called person 'Father Don,'
" David wrote. "I'm so mad at him I could spit, but Jesus would
have forgiven him right away. . . . I'm so confused, I could cry."
Therapist informed authorities
That passage triggered a Jan. 30, 1990, letter by the family's therapist
to Brown County Social Services, which reported it to Green Bay police
on Feb. 16.
On Jan. 31, two Green Bay diocesan officials visited Buzanowski at St.
Pius X Catholic Church in Wauwatosa, where he was living while on a one-year
leave from his duties.
Buzanowski denied the abuse allegations in a conversation with Green Bay
Auxiliary Bishop Robert F. Morneau and Father David Kiefer, then vicar
of priests for the diocese, Brown County prosecutor John Zakowski said.
Kiefer, however, says Buzanowski neither denied or admitted the truth
of the allegations.
Veteran Green Bay Police Detective Jerry Rogalski didn't know Buzanowski
already had been confronted by church officials when he visited Kiefer
at the diocese on Feb. 21, 1990.
Kiefer told him "there was nothing there" and that church officials
didn't believe the allegation, Rogalski said.
Rogalski set up an interview with Buzanowski, but the priest changed his
mind about meeting with the officer after consulting an attorney. Kiefer
said he referred the lawyer - Donald Zuidmulder, now a Brown County judge
- to Buzanowski.
Rogalski believes that had he been able to interview Buzanowski without
preparation by the diocese, he would have had a good chance of getting
a confession. When he interviewed David Schauer on March 9, 1990, he found
the boy's abuse allegations "100%" believable, he said.
William Griesbach, at the time an assistant Brown County prosecutor and
now a federal judge, said he also believed Schauer. But no previous abuse
complaints turned up in Buzanowski's personnel records, Griesbach said.
"It came down to the boy's word against the priest's," he said.
"I just didn't think I had enough evidence." If such a case
came up now, he would file charges, Griesbach said.
After the police investigation was finished, Father Kiefer agreed to provide
financial help to pay for David's therapy. Kiefer also cautioned David's
parents never to discuss the allegation against Buzanowski, saying the
family could be sued for "defamation of character," Judith Schauer
While Kiefer now denies that he meant it as a warning, he said he may
have suggested the Schauers could get sued for spreading the story. The
Schauers remained silent.
The Green Bay Diocese suspended Buzanowski in 1990 after the abuse allegation
and because he didn't report back to the diocese after his one-year leave
expired at mid-year, Banks said. Church officials said they had wanted
to place Buzanowski in a supervised setting.
Buzanowski resigned his ministry in May 1992 but has not been formally
defrocked, Banks said.
Between his years as a priest and his time in prison, Buzanowski had a
second career in Milwaukee as a counselor, which put him in close contact
with vulnerable teenage boys.
Banks said neither federal authorities nor the employers who hired Buzanowski
ever contacted the diocese to check the priest's background. But even
if they had, Banks said it would have been inappropriate for the diocese
to disclose the abuse allegation.
Steve Ingraham, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Buzanowski's
child pornography case in 2000, said he didn't contact church officials
because he thought it would be a "futile" effort to try to get
personnel information from them. In a strikingly similar case, an Illinois
priest was sentenced in January to 20 years in prison, in part because
he admitted molesting numerous boys long ago.
In Milwaukee, Buzanowski made new friends, gained a leadership role in
a gay men's social group and held a responsible job, all of which crumbled
in 1998 when he was caught in an FBI sting.
Buzanowski told an agent posing as a teenager in an Internet chat room
that "he likes persons who are 14 and claimed to have had sex with
such persons," Ingraham said in court. Authorities then seized Buzanowski's
computer and found child pornography on it, and the ex-priest pleaded
guilty to the felony pornography charge.
In the two years after his arrest, Buzanowski joined an east side protestant
congregation, assuming a leadership role and occasionally delivering a
children's sermon, with youngsters gathered around him. He has not been
involved with the church since his release from prison.
Federal court records and former employers said Buzanowski worked the
first five months of 1990 for the Wisconsin Council on Alcohol and Drug
Dependence in Waukesha, where his duties included giving presentations
on the AIDS virus to youth groups. From mid-1990 to 1998, he did drug
and alcohol assessments of juveniles for the Milwaukee Council on Alcohol
and Drug Dependence.
Officials from Milwaukee agencies where Buzanowski worked said they couldn't
recall any allegations of improper behavior.
When Buzanowski applied for a religious education job at a Milwaukee parish
in April 1996, parish officials called Green Bay church officials. "We
stated that under no circumstances should Buzanowski be in contact with
children," Banks said. Nine months later, the Milwaukee Archdiocese
issued a warning about Buzanowski in a newsletter sent to local Catholic
Judith and David Schauer today remain angry that Buzanowski later had
jobs with access to children, something they said Kiefer promised would
never happen. The handling of her son's abuse case left Judith Schauer
disillusioned with both church leaders and the criminal justice system.
"We were convinced he was going to go to jail," she said. "I
guess we were naive."
Donald J. Buzanowski timeline:
1968: Ordained a Catholic priest in Green Bay.
June 1968: St. Joseph Parish, Green Bay, associate pastor
June 1970-'74: St. John the Evangelist Parish, Green Bay, associate pastor
June 1974: St. Jude Parish, Green Bay, associate pastor
June 1975: St. Patrick Parish, Green Bay, co-pastor
Nov. 1975: St. Patrick, Green Bay, pastor
July 1982: St. Louis Parish, Dykesville, pastor
July 1983-'87: Corpus Christi, Sturgeon Bay, pastor
July 1987-'89: St. John the Evangelist Parish, Green Bay, pastor.
October-November 1988: David Schauer, 10, allegedly is abused by Buzanowski.
Jan. 1990: David Schauer, now 12, tells therapist he was abused by Buzanowski
when he was 10.
Feb. 16, 1990: Brown County Social Services refers Schauer case to Green
Bay police for investigation.
March 1, 1990: Buzanowski refuses to talk to police.
July 25, 1990: Bishop suspends Buzanowski for failing to return to Green
Bay from his leave; asks him to return to a "controlled setting"
in Green Bay. Buzanowski declines.
1990-1998: Buzanowski works for Milwaukee Council on Alcohol and Drug
Dependence; job includes drug and alcohol assessments of children in Milwaukee
County Children's Court.
Dec. 19, 1991: Brown County district attorney decides not to prosecute
April 1996: A Milwaukee parish where Buzanowski seeks job as director
of religious education calls Green Bay Diocese for job reference.
Jan. 1997: Milwaukee Archdiocese warns priests and deacons about Buzanowski.
Sept. 2, 1998: While in an Internet chat room, Buzanowski tells an undercover
FBI agent he likes having sex with 14-year-olds. FBI and Milwaukee police
seize Buzanowski's computer and find pornographic images of children.
Sept. 1998-June 2000: Works for Wisconsin Correctional Services as a benefit
specialist for clinic on Wisconsin Ave.
May 2, 2000: Pleads guilty to possession of child pornography.
Nov. 8, 2000: Sentenced to 21 months in federal prison; $100 fine and
three years supervised release.
Spring/summer 2002: Writes pastor of Protestant church from prison about
returning to Milwaukee; seeking help. Minister asks if there was other
Aug. 4, 2002: Buzanowski admits he abused 14 boys while a priest in Green
Oct. 4, 2002: Released from prison.
Late Feb. 2003: Brown County district attorney asks the Green Bay police
to investigate and interview Buzanowski.
David Schauer school essay
Following is a school essay written by David Schauer about his alleged
abuse by Father Don Buzanowski:
Five years ago, when I was ten, I went to a Catholic School called St.
Thomas More. I was constantly being teased by a certain boy. It drove
me nuts. At the same time there was a priest who offered counseling for
anyone who attended the school and had a problem that they wanted to be
solved. I originally went there to help clear up the things that were
going on between me the kid who was teasing me. After going to the priest
a couple of sessions, he started fondling me. He sexually abused me. I
went to professional counseling and almost recovered completely. I still
don't think I'm perfectly well. I went to a social worker and told him
my case. He said there wasn't evidence to convict him. It was my word
against his. I think I might get more help someday because I don't think
everything is out in open for me to know exactly what happened. I know
some things for sure though. I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive
Letter from David Schauer
Folllowing is a letter written by David Schauer to Father Don Buzanowski:
Why did you sexually abuse me?
I hope you admit what you've done to me and others. I know that I'm the
only one who's pressed charges on you, but if you don't admit it, I'm
going to fight to get you where you belong, in prison.
Why do you do things to others that makes them mad and angry and have
mixed feelings. You really do confuse people. I thought you were my friend
but I guess you're not. I hope you're suffering and are very sorry for
not only what you've done to me, but for what you've done to others. I
hope you stop counseling in Milwaukee because I know you're not counseling.
To get over the abuse I don't think about it and I get on with my life.
If I have to think about it, I say what needs to be said and then go about
From a mother's journal
Following is an excerpt from a personal journal written by David Schauer's
mother in 1990:
I said a prayer today, it is the same prayer I've prayed for 509 consecutive
Oh God watch over your son, whom you have interested to us, he is so
God, you know the hurt in my son's life. And you already know hurts to
come to him.
By and through Your word I pray that you will console my son in a very
Wipe away his tears and bring the joy back into his life.
Oh David, where have you gone? What has happen? What have I not done?
Your father and I are in such pain as we watch your spirit empty. Your
eyes are dull there is no dancing; there is no joy.
What happen to our carefree little boy, of 10? Truly heaven sent?
WHY WHY WHY, I have at least one hundred questions, but not one answer
to what happened to change you so.
I watch you get up early to attain morning mass before school and I thank
God that this helps you. But the ache deep within this mother's heart
tells me there is something much more.
Lord Jesus, through the power of Your perfect and error-free word I call
upon You to replace all discouragement in my son's life with joy, hope,
and happiness. Teach him, teach us his family what Your word means when
it says to wait on You, and to be of good courage and that You, God will
As I continue to pray for the return of my son's smile and dancing eyes.