Law Would Strip Clergy of Sex Abuse Liability Shield

By Andy Nelesen
Press-Gazette [Green Bay WI]
September 16, 2005

Clergy and churches would lose their shield to civil liability for sexual abuse under a law proposed by a local state senator and endorsed by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

At a press conference Thursday, Peter Isely, the group's Midwest director, threw his group's support behind the initiative introduced by state Sens. Alan Lasee, R-Rockland, and Timothy Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, that would allow priests, pastors and churches to be named in civil suits seeking damages for abuse.

Lasee's bill and a companion Assembly measure would allow a one-year window for victims to file civil claims of abuse. Currently, Wisconsin law prohibits civil claims against clergy and their supervisors, Isely said.

"We are the only state that utterly and completely immunizes sex-offender clergy and their supervisors from any civil accountability," Isely said. "This has made our state the safest place for sex-offender clergy in the United States."

Bishop David Zubik, head of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, was out of town Thursday and not available for comment, according to Renae Bauer, assistant director of communications for the diocese.

While the usual remedy sought by a civil lawsuit is often monetary damages, Isely said there is something more important on the line in clergy abuse cases: access to information.

Isely said he hopes that through depositions and other legal discovery, civil suits in Wisconsin could help pry open records and information church officials have kept secret.

Alice and Toby Hodek, whose son Mark was a victim of former Norbertine priest James Stein, echoed Isely's endorsement of the bill.

"We were one of the very fortunate families who were able to get a criminal case; and our son was a strong and courageous victim who put himself out there and identified himself in a very public way to stop Father Stein," Alice Hodek said. "Civil cases are very important to those individuals who do not get a criminal case. (It's) very important to expose these perpetrators and let parents protect their children from them."

Clergy abuse case [side-bar to the above article]

Former priest Donald Buzanowski is expected to be sentenced today in Brown County Circuit Court on two counts of repeated sexual assault of the same child. He was convicted by a Brown County jury in July of molesting a 10-year-old boy while serving as a counselor at Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic School in Green Bay. Buzanowski faces up to 40 years in prison.


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