Calif. Appeals Court Finds Milwaukee Archdiocese Liable

Herald Tribune [Santa Ana, Calif]
Downloaded October 3, 2003

A state appeals court ruled that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee can be held liable for failing to reveal the previous child molestation conviction of a priest who allegedly molested another boy after moving to Orange County.

The decision is the first time a California appeals court has ruled on whether out-of-state Roman Catholic officials can be held liable for failure to report past misconduct, and attorneys said it could affect many other cases statewide.

Siegfried Widera was convicted of sexual misconduct with a teen boy in Milwaukee in 1973, and moved three years later to Orange County, where he served at churches in Yorba Linda and Anaheim. The Diocese of Orange said it was not aware of Widera's conviction at the time but confirmed that he arrived with a warning from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that Widera had a "moral problem having to do with a boy."

Widera allegedly continued to molest boys until he was removed from the ministry in 1985 following accusations of sexual abuse.

One of his victims sued to hold the Archdiocese of Milwaukee liable for the priest's actions, and three justices from the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled unanimously Wednesday in the victim's favor.

"The Milwaukee Archdiocese sought to rid itself of Widera by sending him into California knowing he was a pedophile and had been convicted in Wisconsin of sexual perversion against a boy," Justice Richard Fybel wrote.

The court noted that Milwaukee Archdiocese officials could have done more to warn their counterparts in Orange County.

Milwaukee Archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said Friday he could not comment because of pending litigation and because he had not read the court's full opinion.

Widera died in May after leaping from a hotel in Mexico. He had been charged with a total of 42 counts of child molestation in California and Wisconsin.


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