Court Revives Man's Lawsuit against Diocese
Green Bay: Man Claims Church Knew of Priest's History of Sexual Abuse
By Robert Imrie
Associated Press, carried in Duluth News Tribune
Downloaded August 4, 2004
WAUSAU, Wis. - A state appeals court Tuesday revived a man's lawsuit against the Green Bay Catholic Diocese and a priest he says sexually abused him as a boy.
An attorney called the ruling a breakthrough for victims of clergy abuse.
David Schauer of Marshfield claims he was molested by the Rev. Donald Buzanowski during counseling sessions at Green Bay's Sts. Peter and Paul School in 1988 when he was 10.
Schauer filed a lawsuit in April 2003, alleging the diocese was negligent because it knew of Buzanowski's prior sexual misconduct against minor children and hid evidence of his past behavior.
The priest, who served in seven churches in the Green Bay area, has admitted molesting 14 boys between 1969 and 1988, court records said.
Brown County Circuit Judge Mark Warpinski dismissed Schauer's lawsuit in July 2003, ruling the statute of limitations had expired. Schauer, then 25, appealed.
On Tuesday, the 3rd District Court of Appeals sent the lawsuit back to the judge to decide whether the diocese can use the statute of limitations as a defense because Schauer claims the diocese and the school had discouraged him from pursuing legal action.
In reviving the lawsuit, the appeals court ruled Warpinski needs to gather more facts to determine whether the diocese and the school were "guilty of fraudulent or inequitable conduct."
If so, the diocese and school cannot use the statute of limitations' defense, the panel said. Schauer's lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
Schauer's attorney, Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, said Tuesday's unanimous ruling was a "real breakthrough" for victims of priest abuse to have their day in court.
"The barriers to survivors of sexual abuse getting justice has been cracked in this decision," Anderson said. "All David Schauer wants is a shot at justice. This is a shot to letting the truth be known and the facts be heard instead of being kept secret by the bishop."
Patrick Brennan, a Milwaukee attorney for the Green Bay Diocese, and Renae Bauer, a spokeswoman for the diocese, did not immediately return telephone messages Tuesday.
In contending the diocese should not be able to use the statute of limitations as a defense, Schauer said the Rev. David Kiefer, a diocesan official, warned him not to discuss the allegations with anyone and threatened to sue the Schauer family for defamation if he did, court records said.
Schauer, a one-time altar boy, also contends that if the diocese had disclosed that the priest had sexually abused children before, he would have sued earlier instead of missing the legal deadline by about two years.
"Facts need to be developed to ascertain whether the diocese knew of Buzanowski's prior sexual assaults," Judge Gregory Peterson wrote for the three-judge appeals court.
"In addition, there are questions of whether the diocese and the school actually made the threat, what caused the inducement to delay to cease and whether the delay was reasonable."
Former Green Bay Bishop Robert Banks has said he knew of no other sexual abuse allegation against Buzanowski until February 2003 and the diocese concealed no evidence.
Schauer reported his allegations about Buzanowski to Green Bay police in 1990, but prosecutors decided not to file any charges and the diocese agreed to pay for therapy for Schauer, court records said.
Last week, in similar lawsuits involving a Milwaukee priest and the Milwaukee Archdiocese, the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the statute of limitations had expired and the First Amendment bans negligence claims against churches.
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