Numerous Complaints Made against Suspended Wauwatosa Priest, Report Shows
By Annysa Johnson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
April 18, 2013
The Wauwatosa Catholic priest suspended after a teacher reported what she considered sexually inappropriate contact with a child has been the subject of numerous complaints by parents and others over the years, according to a Wauwatosa police report.
Father Robert Marsicek, who is also under investigation in Sacramento, Calif., had been repeatedly counseled by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and his religious order, the Society of the Divine Savior, about "boundary issues" and was told to stop hugging and touching children.
In one case, a mother reported that Marsicek touched her daughter's genitalia through her clothes, but the case was not turned over to police, and there appears to be no record of it at the archdiocese or the religious order known as the Salvatorians.
Marsicek, who served at St. Pius X Parish in Wauwatosa and Mother of Good Counsel in Milwaukee, has been on leave since March 28 after a Wauwatosa Catholic School teacher reported what she considered inappropriate contact with a young child.
According to the police report, the teacher told detectives that on separate occasions she saw Marsicek squeeze the buttocks of the child who was sitting, facing him, on his lap and hold his hand on the child's upper thigh "near her private parts" while whispering in her ear.
On another day, the teacher said, Marsicek again had the child on his lap with his hand on her buttocks. The teacher said she made eye contact with Marsicek, who moved his hand, nearly dropping the child.
In a forensic interview, using a diagram of a body, the child indicated that Marsicek had touched her on the front and back of both thighs and her waist and squeezed the area of her breast.
Went to archbishops
Two Milwaukee archbishops had been made aware of other complaints over the years, Archbishop Jerome Listecki in June and then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan - now cardinal and archbishop of New York - in 2005.
Yet there appears to have been no attempt to remove Marsicek from the two Catholic schools he served until Wauwatosa police banned him from the schools while they investigated the latest complaint in March.
"I wanted to believe that maybe it was an accident," said the mother who accused Marsicek of indecently touching her 5-year-old daughter at what is now Wauwatosa Catholic School in 2005. Had she known then what she knows now, she said, she would have gone straight to the police.
"When you put it all together, it appears to be a pattern of abuse. He needs help," she said.
Marsicek, 71, told Wauwatosa detectives that he is not sexually attracted to children, he is merely affectionate, and that any inappropriate touching was inadvertent.
He said he had been asked repeatedly by parents to stop hugging their children, picking them up and allowing them to sit on his lap.
Archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said boundary issues are not cause to remove a priest from ministry, and the archdiocese responded properly to every report.
"Boundary issues are NOT sexual abuse," Topczewski said in an email criticizing media for reporting on the Marsicek investigations.
The term boundary issues covers a broad array of behaviors, verbal and physical, that may or may not be sexual, but intent is often hard to prove, said Jim Freiberger, a psychologist who has counseled sex abuse victims and served on sex abuse review board for religious orders.
The principal of Wauwatosa Catholic sent a letter to parents Wednesday, saying school officials were never told about the California investigation, which the archdiocese and Salvatorians had known about since May. It was reported by the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday.
"We hope that you will continue to believe in our commitment to ensure the safety and well-being of your children when they are in our care," Principal Heidi Hernandez said.
Salvatorian Provincial Father Joseph Rodrigues also issued a letter to families saying allegations of abuse or inappropriate contact are always "complex situations" and no allegation against Marsicek had ever been substantiated. Rodrigues told the Journal Sentinel in early April that he knew of no prior allegations against Marsicek.
Efforts to reach the order or its attorney Thursday were unsuccessful.
Although the Milwaukee County district attorney's office declined to criminally charge Marsicek, the Salvatorians are conducting their own review. That's still ongoing, but the order appears to have already decided to restrict the priest's access to children.
"I also can assure you that Fr. Marsicek is not - and will not - be working with children of any age now or in the future," a victim assistance coordinator said last week in an email to a woman who said Marsicek molested her daughter in Manitowoc County in the 1970s.
According to the report, Wauwatosa police found several other references to complaints or concerns in Marsicek's personnel files at the archdiocese and his order.
Again and again in letters, emails and conversations, parents, a day care worker and others express concerns about "red flag behaviors" or excessive "playfulness" and "body games," such as tickling, holding children's arms and legs to show how they look like rubber, and rubbing their backs.
Some said they weren't accusing Marsicek of anything inappropriate but that it made them uncomfortable.
Day care providers at Pius' before- and after-school program raised concerns about Marsicek taking certain children back to his living quarters, after which they'd return with small stuffed animals and candy. After the complaint, Marsicek could continue to visit the program but he was barred from taking children back to his apartment, a former day care worker said in an interview.
Salvatorian and archdiocese officials repeatedly spoke to Marsicek about his conduct. A memo was placed in his file, and he repeatedly vowed to change his behavior.
The most serious allegation appears to have been the 2005 report regarding the 5-year-old. The mother contacted Wauwatosa police after reading about the latest investigation there.
She said she reported the incident to the school at the time and that her daughter changed her story after being questioned by an acting vice principal in a closed-door meeting.
There was no record of the complaint at the archdiocese or the order, she said.
Wauwatosa Catholic Administrator Dean Weyer told police he was not surprised by that. According to the police report, Weyer said the former principal and teacher involved "would have tried to deal with the matter internally."
The Wauwatosa police report also shed new light on the California allegation, which was brought to the attention of the Sacramento Diocese by a mother who believes her sons were molested by Marsicek in the 1990s when he served at a parish there. One son told his mother that he was sexually abused during camping trips. Marsicek was a Boy Scout chaplain for the diocese beginning in 1990.