|Civil Suit against Abusive Priest Advances
Jury Can Decide Whether Churches Conspired to Hide Misconduct
By Marie Rohde
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
June 16, 2009
A civil lawsuit brought by two women against an abusive priest crossed a legal hurdle Tuesday when a judge ruled a jury would be allowed to decide whether the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., conspired to conceal the priest's misconduct.
But Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Thomas Cooper also noted that there would be problems with the case if it goes to trial, largely because the sexual abuse accusations date back nearly 40 years and many of those involved in the alleged conspiracy are dead.
The priest, Bruce Duncan MacArthur, 87, lives in a retirement facility for abusive priests near St. Louis.
He was convicted in Dodge County last year of seven felony counts of sexual misconduct involving children. Those crimes also date back decades to when MacArthur worked as a chaplain at St. Joseph's Hospital in Beaver Dam, despite many accusations of misconduct and church- ordered treatment for pedophilia.
In 2005, another woman abused as a child by MacArthur at the Beaver Dam hospital reached a financial settlement of a lawsuit in South Dakota with the Milwaukee and Sioux Falls churches.
MacArthur was ordained in Sioux Falls and admitted to abusing children in South Dakota in the early 1960s before he was transferred to Milwaukee.
Jeffrey Anderson, a lawyer representing the women in the current case, said the news of that settlement made his clients realize that the two churches were aware of MacArthur's misconduct. They sued in 2007.
David Muth, a lawyer representing the Milwaukee church, said the women should have known they could have sued years before because there had been so much publicity regarding other lawsuits.
The women, identified as Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3 in the lawsuit, say they were abused at the hospital by MacArthur while they were patients, one in 1967 and the other in 1970.
The lawsuit is one of a handful of civil lawsuits filed in Wisconsin seeking monetary damages against the church for the misconduct of priests.
Because of a pair of decisions by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the mid-1990s, the church was largely immune to civil lawsuits by victims.
A 2007 decision by the high court opened the door a bit when the court ruled that while the church could not be sued for negligent supervision of priests, it could be sued in some cases for fraud if officials were aware of misconduct and covered it up.
Since then several cases have been filed, but none has gone to trial.
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