Church Reacted Slowly to Abuse Case
Despite Reports of Sexual Contact, Capuchin Leaders Kept Priest in Post at Seminary for a Decade
By Marie Rohde and Tom Kertscher
Journal Sentinel Online
April 19, 2002
Years before Jude Hahn admitted that he abused young men, it was clear to some people at St. Lawrence Seminary that his was a textbook case of secrecy and denial.
Tim Scott, a former seminary teacher, told Capuchin leaders during the 1981-'82 school year that Hahn, a dormitory supervisor at the time, was having inappropriate contact with students.
"I heard one talking about so-and-so slept in Father Jude's room last night and things like that," Scott recalled this week. "There were kids talking about him giving them back rubs, and there was also an incident in which a kid said Jude used a paddle on another kid's bare bottom."
Scott said he reported the matter to the seminary's rector, who said he would take care of it. "I was told that he was talked to," Scott said.
But Hahn was not removed as a dormitory supervisor. In fact, it would be more than a decade before Hahn was dealt with.
Hahn eventually admitted having sexual contact with four young males in the 1970s and '80s. He left the priesthood in 1993 and moved to the West Coast.
Throughout the Hahn case, church officials tried to keep details out of public view. Even today, many court documents arising from a 1994 civil lawsuit filed against Hahn are under seal in Fond du Lac County. It's also clear from the record that officials at St. Lawrence were intent on protecting the school's reputation after molestation allegations against Hahn and other priests surfaced.
Also, a letter from Archbishop Rembert Weakland has surfaced, in which Weakland notes "there would be no scandal" if Hahn continued to live in the area.
The Journal Sentinel has petitioned the court in Fond du Lac County to open sealed records in the Hahn case. Recently, new documents came to light from another source, which were examined for this story.
Hahn did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Ordained in 1958
Clarence Francis Hahn, now 71, was born and raised in Milwaukee and took the religious name Jude. After his ordination in 1958, he took a job teaching math at St. Lawrence Seminary and became assistant pastor at Holy Cross church, both in the Fond du Lac County community of Mount Calvary. St. Lawrence is a boarding high school for boys preparing for the priesthood.
After being sued by the boy he admitted molesting, Hahn testified in a 1994 deposition that he had molested the boy and had sexual contact with three other teenage males beginning in the mid-1970s and continuing for at least several years.
Hahn said he met the young men through his work at the church and the sexual contact occurred in the young man's home, his rectory bedroom and during trips to visit Hahn's family in Washington state.
The boy whom Hahn admitted molesting said in a deposition years later that the abuse began when Hahn visited his family's home to hear confessions. He said Hahn stripped down to his boxer shorts during the boy's confession in the boy's bedroom.
In March 1993, after refusing to continue treatment at a St. Louis facility, where he was sent after the seminary learned of the sexual misconduct allegations, Hahn submitted his resignation letters. He said he did not want to accept the Capuchin order's proposed transfer to a post at its Detroit headquarters.
In a letter to Pope John Paul II, who approved Hahn's removal from the priesthood, Hahn wrote:
"I was working with the teenage community and found that acceptance and intimacy which I did not find with my religious community. I am now facing allegations of sexual misconduct for incidents that happened before 1981 with young people under the age of 18."
Capuchin Provincial Minister Kenneth Reinhart - Hahn's boss - supported Hahn's request to leave the priesthood "for the sake of protecting" the church and the Capuchin order "from scandal." Should Hahn molest again, he added in a memorandum, it would be "a serious scandal to the public."
Reinhart also wrote to Hahn, asking that he accept his suspension quietly. "We do not wish to engage in any scandal to the public in the Mount Calvary area or any other area," the letter says.
As part of Hahn's removal from the priesthood, a letter was needed from Weakland, even though Weakland was not in charge of supervising Hahn.
Weakland noted in the letter, "It is my opinion that there would be no scandal involved if a dispensation were granted to Jude Hahn and if he continued to live here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. To my knowledge, he is not well known in this area."
Weakland declined to comment for this story, but his spokesman, Jerry Topczewski, said the letter was not an offer to let Hahn live in the Milwaukee area.
"It's a boiler-plate letter and has no implication of the archbishop's feeling at all on the behavior of (Hahn), which he, of course, thinks is terrible," Topczewski said.
The archbishop was simply supporting the Capuchin order's request to have Hahn removed from the priesthood, Topczewski said. The letter meant that Hahn's living in the archdiocese would not cause a scandal - meaning it would not cause Catholics to lose faith, he said.
Father Patrick Lagges, vicar for canonical services with the Archdiocese of Chicago, said the letter appeared standard.
"What he's saying is if you (remove) this man, it would not cause people to doubt their faith," Lagges said.
By the time Weakland wrote the letter in April 1993, Hahn had been accused of the sexual misconduct and did not deny the allegations when confronted by his superior. Weakland had been briefed about the allegations, according to court documents.
Former teacher 'ostracized'
Scott, the former seminary teacher, said he felt that the Capuchins were more concerned about keeping the story quiet than dealing with the situation. He said that an investigation was done to determine who had talked about Hahn's alleged inappropriate activity and that he was shunned after admitting that he had told administrators about Hahn.
"I was at St. Lawrence for eight years, and it was a big part of my life," said Scott, who also was a student at the seminary. "They helped to create my conscience, and then they ostracized me when I acted on it."
Court records also indicate that St. Lawrence officials sought secrecy when other sexual misconduct allegations surfaced.
The allegations were first made public after a 1992-'93 investigation by The Milwaukee Journal. About two dozen young men told a reporter they had been abused as students at St. Lawrence. Later, an investigation sponsored by the Capuchins found 14 allegations of sexual abuse involving six friars at the 142-year-old school.
The alleged molestations began as early as 1961, and seminary officials were alerted to the allegations as early as 1971, according to documents filed in lawsuits over the alleged abuse. The incidents continued until at least 1987, but the seminary often ignored or downplayed allegations, the records show.
Felony sex crime charges were filed in two St. Lawrence cases, both in 1993, against one brother and one staff member. Both cases were dismissed.
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