Group Wants Priests Accountable

By Andy Behrendt
News-Herald [Green Bay WI]
August 25, 2003

For the Marshfield News-Herald

GREEN BAY - A Marsh­field man's court case against the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay and the former priest whom he said sexually abused him at age 10 has been dismissed, but on Sunday, he took his recent battle with the local church to a new level.

David Schauer and his family - members of the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests - approached parishioners of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral as they left Mass on Sunday morning to spread leaflets urging state lawmakers to strengthen a new bill against clergy who sexually exploited children and the churches those clergy served.

"It's great that it's (the bill is) going to affect future victims," said Schauer, now 25. "But we also need to be able to hold the diocese accountable for their past actions since it's because of them and their lies that we weren't able to bring a lawsuit against them."

Schauer in April filed his civil suit against the Green Bay diocese and former Green Bay priest Donald Buzanowski, whom Schauer said sexually abused him when Schauer was a fifth-grader at Green Bay's Sts. Peter and Paul School. The court action came late, Schauer said, because diocesan officials had denied Buzanowski's actions and told his family that the priest wouldn't be allowed in contact with children.

Schauer said it wasn't until February that he learned Buzanowski had indeed gone on to continue working with children in Milwaukee and later admitted to molesting 14 boys - ages 14 to 17 - in the 1970s and 1980s. Buza­nowski had also been convicted of possessing child pornography and was released from prison last fall.

A Brown County judge dismissed the case in July, because Schauer was too late in claiming damages, according to state law.

Peter Isely, a spokesman for the Survivors Network who says he was sexually abused by a priest at age 13, said Wisconsin's laws have been the weakest in the United States in taking actions against clergy who have sexually exploited children, making those who were abused second-class citizens in the state.

The new bill, which is scheduled for hearings in the state Legislature next month, would add clergy to the list of mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect, and it would extend the length of time victims and prosecutors have to file cases against offending clergy.

The bill would allow victims to file suit before they reach age 35, whereas current law only allows them to file within five years after the victim discovered or should have discovered the injury. But that law won't apply to cases like Schauer's that have already passed the time limit under current law, Isely said. Recent action by a few other states gives past victims a new chance to make a case there, he said.

The leaflets handed to parishioners on Sunday urged them to call Legislators and make the new bill retroactive. They also received a notice from the diocese advising them of the Survivors' Network's presence and mission to remove a time limit for lawsuits or prosecutions.

The leafleting went as Schauer expected, he said. He felt the group succeeded in telling parishioners about the current bill and why it needs to be strengthened.

"There were a handful of people I knew who wouldn't be interested," he said. "There was a handful that supported us fully and a third handful that lay in the balance. It was those folks we wanted to target."

Joyce and Bill Kerwin, members of St. Francis Xavier for 50 years, said they felt bad about priests' misconduct and that it was handled poorly in the past, but they were concerned that lawsuits now would primarily benefit those looking for money.

"It'll be handled entirely different now if it ever comes up again, of course," Joyce Kerwin said.

And as for anyone claiming to be a victim like Schauer: "You can't undo what was done, and the best we can do is to pray for him," she said.

- Jonathan Gneiser of the News-Herald contributed to this story.

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