Wild admits knowledge of clergy abuse allegations
By Morgan Hughes
September 11, 2018
|Former university president Robert Wild stands at the entrance of the new residence hall during freshmen move-in day Aug. 23.|
Photo by Sydney Czyzon
|Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J., walks across campus between inaugural events, November 1996. Via Marquette University Library Archives.|
Wild admits knowledge of clergy abuse allegations
After admitting to knowledge of sexual abuse allegations against clergy, former Marquette University President Rev. Robert A. Wild requested his name be removed from the university’s new residence hall. Opened to students as Wild Commons a few weeks ago, Marquette’s $108 million new development will now be known only as The Commons.
In a letter to University President Michael Lovell and the Board of Trustees, Wild said accusations were lodged against three members of the Chicago Society of Jesus while he was provincial from 1985 until 1991.
“Looking back, I would have handled certain aspects of those cases rather differently than I did then,” Wild wrote in the letter.
Wild served as Marquette’s president from 1996 to 2011, and on an interim basis from 2013 to 2014 and is the current chancellor for the university.
In an email statement to the university responding to Wild’s letter, Lovell said the Board of Trustees unanimously accepted Wild’s request.
“We are in agreement with Father Wild that this is the right decision for both Marquette and survivors of clergy abuse,” he said in the statement. “Anyone who knows Father Wild understands that he values the Gospel message of love and forgiveness and we move forward together as a Marquette community in that spirit.”
Wild’s time as provincial
While Wild’s letter to the Board said allegations were made against three of the Chicago Province’s members, he did not name any of the accused. One high-profile case that can be traced back to Wild’s time as provincial, however, is that of Donald McGuire.
McGuire was ordained as a member of the Society of Jesus in 1961. He moved from posting to posting throughout his career until 2006, when he was criminally convicted on five counts of indecent behavior with a child. He was defrocked in 2008 and sentenced to 25 years in federal prison on separate sexual abuse charges in 2009. He died while serving that sentence in 2017, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Though McGuire first faced charges in 2006, his pattern of abuse began years earlier.
In February 1991, Wild received a call from Brother Ricardo Palacio, the director of a California spiritual retreat McGuire was also on. Palacio told Wild that McGuire had been traveling alone with a “16 or 17 year old boy” and that he was “suspicious of the arrangement,” according to a memo prepared by Wild Feb. 19, 1991.
The teenage boy claimed he had been sleeping in a room opposite of McGuire, but when Palacio investigated further, he found that the room the boy referred to was an office.
“The boy does not seem to have slept in a separate room; nothing was disturbed in any room he could have used,” Wild wrote in the memo.
The memo went on to call the incident “at least very imprudent, perhaps much more serious.”
Wild then issued a set of guidelines for McGuire, communicated in a letter dated Feb. 27, 1991, asking McGuire not to travel on overnight trips with “any boy or girl under the age of 18 and preferably even under the age of 21.” Wild also asked McGuire not to interact with the boy he had been traveling with without one of his parents present.
Those correspondences became the first documents kept in a confidential file on the priest, according to Wild’s testimony in a 2009 deposition for a civil case against the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus. Wild testified that confidential files were kept on a small number of priests and would include information the provincials considered sensitive, such as abuse allegations.
Wild said in the deposition that this incident was the first he had heard any accusation against McGuire and that no confidential file existed on McGuire prior to his writing the Feb. 19 memo. Later in the deposition, he said of McGuire, “We didn’t have fire, but we had smoke.”
When Palacio was deposed for another case involving the Jesuits and McGuire in 2011, he testified that Wild told him there had been other allegations against McGuire. Palacio said Wild did not provide any further details, only that he confirmed that there had been other accusations.
Jesuit documents and aftermath
The documents tying Wild to McGuire were made public in 2011, as part of a civil case filed against the Chicago Jesuits by one of McGuire’s victims. The suit alleged that Jesuit leaders knew of McGuire’s actions and concealed them.
In 2011, after the release of those documents, The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests held a press conference on campus asking Wild to apologize for his involvement. Peter Isely, SNAP’s Midwest director, said the group was not treated well during that time.
Isely said he was unsatisfied with Wild’s letter. Wild’s failure to turn McGuire over to civil authorities despite knowing that he was dangerous was a failure of moral responsibility, he said.
“What he says is he made a mistake,” Isely said. “That was not a mistake, that was a top management decision. That’s calculated, that’s deliberate.”
Another concern Isely raised was that while Wild mentioned three accused priests in his letter, he did not name any of them. This concern is shared by Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine monk who is now a clergy abuse victims advocate. He has been investigating abuse cases since 2002, and said he has interviewed more than 30 of McGuire’s victims.
Wall said thousands of Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse since the 1950s, but only about half of their names are known. This lack of transparency is not likely to change, Wall said.
“Until leadership starts to go to jail, you’re not going to see fundamental change,” he said.
Jeremy Langford, spokesperson for the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus, said in an email, “The Society does disclose the names of its members accused of abusing minors to the appropriate governmental prosecuting authorities and to its Review Board.” He said criminal prosecution and convictions are part of the public record.
Wild did not respond to several requests for comment. The university would not answer further questions and referred the Marquette Wire to the statement issued to the university by Lovell via email Sept. 4.
View the links below for the documents referenced in this story.
Rev. Robert A Wild’s 2009 deposition
Brother Ricardo Palacio’s 2011 deposition
Wild’s Feb. 19, 1991 memo
Wild’s Feb. 27, 1991 letter to McGuire
About this story:
The Marquette Wire is an independent student media organization, and we strive for thorough fact verification in every story. Given the nature of this story, we took an additional step and formed a red team. The purpose of the red team was to have an outside group question and challenge the veracity of the information gathered by the reporter to ensure all information came from public record and/or from multiple confirming sources.
The red team was comprised of the executive director of the Marquette Wire, the managing editor of the Marquette Tribune, the projects editor of the Marquette Wire who reported on the story, director of student media Mark Zoromski, who has nearly 40 years of journalism experience and is a member of the Milwaukee Press Club Hall of Fame, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dave Umhoefer, who now heads the O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University.
The Marquette Wire completed a comprehensive, detailed evaluation of more than 100 documents for this story.