Final Claim Dismissed in Diocese Fraud Suit
By Chris Hubbuch
February 21, 2012
A judge dismissed the last of three legal claims Tuesday against the Roman Catholic Diocese of La Crosse in a 2008 lawsuit that accused the diocese of covering up sex abuse allegations against a priest.
In keeping with his earlier rulings, La Crosse County Circuit Judge Scott Horne said the plaintiff, Brenda Varga, failed to demonstrate fraud and that her attorneys shaded facts in their complaint to get before the courts and fish for more information to support "a questionable lawsuit."
The diocese issued a statement saying in part, "This case illustrates the procedural difficulties in allowing the filing of old claims, particularly where plaintiff's lawyers are willing to make misrepresentations of fact to the court. ... The willingness to take liberties with the requisite facts in a case such as this does not further, and in fact deprecates, founded and credible claims of sexual assault and fraud."
According to the complaint, Varga, 49, met the late Rev. Raymond Bornbach in 1971 when her family attended a wedding at his church. She said he later befriended the third-grader's family, bought her gifts and molested her over the course of a year.
The church removed Bornbach from the ministry in 2004 after a diocesan review panel found Varga's allegations credible though Bornbach's attorney denied them. Bornbach died in 2006.
Varga's suit alleged then-Bishop Frederick Freking knew Bornbach had a proclivity for young girls when he was assigned to St. Michael's Parish in Hewitt, Wis. It made three claims of fraud.
According to the complaint - which Horne deemed "sloppily drafted, at best" - a parishioner told Freking in 1968 that his wife had witnessed Bornbach "touching a little girl inappropriately." But his testimony in depositions painted a different picture.
It was actually the man's mother, and what she witnessed was Bornbach sitting in the church with a 6-year-old girl on his lap. Though he attempted to report the incident, he never reached the bishop.
Horne dismissed two claims in January but reserved ruling on the third until Tuesday.
According to court documents, Horne suggested that there was a misrepresentation in the complaint and that Varga's attorneys failed to show that any additional investigation by church officials would have revealed Bornbach to be a child molester.
"There never was nor is there any coverup," diocese attorney James Birnbaum said. "It's hard enough to deal with real facts. It's really hard to deal with facts that are fabricated."
Varga's attorney said his client hasn't decided whether to appeal.
"These cases, there never are any winners," Birnbaum said. "We're pleased that it's finally over."