|Archdiocese Faces New Sex Abuse Suit
2 Women Say They Were Abused by Priest Known to Have History of Misconduct
By Marie Rohde
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
September 11, 2007
A civil lawsuit has been filed against the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee by two women who contend they were abused as children by Father Bruce MacArthur, a priest with an admitted history of sexual abuse who served a prison sentence for attempting to assault a disabled mute woman in Texas.
Also named in the lawsuit is the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., where MacArthur was ordained. Both Milwaukee and Sioux Falls settled a lawsuit with a victim of MacArthur's in South Dakota in late 2005.
The assaults occurred while MacArthur was a chaplain at the old St. Joseph's Hospital in Beaver Dam and the two victims were patients, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Monday.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, brings to eight the number of allegations brought in Wisconsin against the Catholic Church under the narrow conditions permitted in a July ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The lawsuits all allege fraud, saying the church knew that these priests had histories of misconduct and allowed them to function in the state without warning congregations or others to the dangers.
The plaintiffs also contend that they were unaware of the fraud until sometime after a lawsuit was brought in Sioux Falls in 2003.
Kathleen Hohl, speaking for the archdiocese, said Tuesday that church officials had not seen the lawsuit and thus had no comment.
Wisconsin had been the only state in the country where the church was essentially immune from civil lawsuits brought by victims. However, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee had made sizable payments to victims in other states, notably a $16.65 million offer - half of it covered by insurance - made to settle cases in California involving Siegfried Widera and Franklyn Becker. The Supreme Court ruling allowed civil lawsuits brought by five victims of those priests to go forward.
MacArthur, now 85, retired and living in a community for abusive priests near St. Louis, was charged in Dodge County in January 2006 with seven felonies involving indecent behavior or sexual intercourse with a child. That case is on hold as MacArthur's lawyers appeal a decision that the statute of limitations had not expired because the priest had left Wisconsin.
Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel said Tuesday that he had been asked to consider issuing charges against MacArthur and concluded that prosecution is legally possible despite the passage of time. Schimel added that although he had not made a final decision, a variety of factors have him wondering whether filing charges is worth the effort and expense.
"They have filed charges in Dodge County, and I have talked with the district attorney there about the possibility of consolidating any charges we could file with the charges there," Schimel said.
"It's my understanding that this man is in a nursing home and is showing signs of Alzheimer's (disease), and that is an issue that they are already facing in Dodge County regarding competency. I'm not sure I'm willing to spend taxpayer dollars under the current circumstances," he said.
According to court records:
MacArthur was ordained in South Dakota in 1953. According to a deposition in another case, he admitted abusing children there sometime after his assignment to St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Platte. Multiple allegations by young girls were made to the Sioux Falls Diocese in 1963 and 1964. MacArthur was sent to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, where he worked in several parishes and as a hospital chaplain between 1965 and 1970.
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