Priest Returns to Parish Family
Dousman Church Celebrates after Abuse Allegation Is Cleared

By Lindsey Unterberger
Milwaukee Journal Sentinal
August 12, 2004

Dousman - For many of about 350 members of St. Bruno Church attending a homecoming Thursday evening, the return of Father John P. Schreiter meant more than just the return of their pastor.

"He's like an uncle or brother to everyone at this parish," said Travis McCullough, who will be a senior at Kettle Moraine High School. "I know I can call him at 3 a.m., and he's there to talk."

Thursday's celebration, which included a prayer service and reception, came less than a week after the Diocesan Review Board decided an allegation of sexual abuse of an adult against Schreiter was unsubstantiated.

Loud applause and whistles filled the air when Karen Warnes, a St. Bruno pastoral associate, announced, "He's back," with many members beaming and several becoming teary-eyed.

"The most difficult part of being away," Schreiter told his parish, "was being away from you."

Schreiter had been placed on leave since April 22 while the archdiocese investigated the allegation, said to have happened 25 years ago and not reported to officials until mid-March.

"It's been a long time coming," McCullough said. "He was gone for 107 days, but it felt like 107 years."

Yellow ribbons adorned the ends of each pew, and a large, yellow banner reading "Welcome Home Father John!" hung from the altar. Members of St. Bruno started the Thursday night prayer sessions 15 weeks ago when Schreiter was removed from his position.

Schreiter's mother, brother, niece and nephew were also in attendance Thursday.

Addressing the parish, Warnes said Schreiter's absence was a "deep, deep pain, like an open wound."

The best part of being back, Schreiter, 62, said in an interview, "is just being able to pray with people." The "tremendous support of people" helped him get through the ordeal, he added.

McCullough said he called Schreiter once a week during his absence.

"You could tell he was hurting," he said. "You could tell he wasn't himself by any means."

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Kathleen Hohl said it was the first time she knew of that a priest has returned to work since the review board's establishment in 2003, but it was not the first time an allegation had been found to be unsubstantiated.

Hohl said the investigation process used in Schreiter's case is the same one that was formulated for cases involving sexual abuse of a minor.

The allegation was first referred to the Sauk County district attorney's office, which would not prosecute because the statute of limitations had expired.

The investigation was then pursued by a private investigator who made a recommendation to the review board, which makes an advisory decision that is referred to Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan.

Scott Vandenhouten, the Parish Council spokesman, said Schreiter had returned to his full capacity as pastor, and the parish was grateful to have him back and grateful the process was over.

"Tonight was amazing," McCullough said of the celebration. "It was a great service, but it almost doesn't do justice to how great it is to have him back. Him being away is like not being able to see your kids."