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  Police Probing Two Priest Cases

By Paul Srubas
Green Bay Press-Gazette
April 11, 2002

Since the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay publicized a sexual-assault allegation against the Rev. Stanley Browne late last month, reports of similar allegations involving children have trickled in to both law enforcement and the diocese.

But to date, only two cases are actively under investigation, Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski said Wednesday.

One involves an allegation against a former De Pere priest, made by a former De Pere resident in late March. Both the alleged victim and the priest, whom police would not name, now live out of state, but De Pere police are continuing the investigation.

The other involves Browne, who has been placed on administrative leave from his Lakewood parish pending the investigation. A lawyer told the diocese on March 26 that Browne sexually abused a minor in the early 1980s.

In that case, the alleged victim is now older than 31, meaning that the statute of limitations prevents prosecutors from bringing a charge against Browne even if they were able to dig up sufficient evidence, Zakowski said. However, Zakowski has asked Green Bay police to continue to investigate the case.

Evidence could still prove useful if prosecutors were asked to charge an unrelated case against Browne, Zakowski said.

His office received an additional allegation against Browne on Friday, and the caller was directed to report it to police, Zakowski said. The caller had not done that as of Wednesday, so the matter is not under investigation but could be soon, he said.

Zakowski's office received three similar calls that didn't involve Browne in recent weeks. One turned out to be related to the investigation in De Pere. Another was referred to Outagamie County authorities for jurisdictional reasons. And a third was referred to a police agency in Brown County, but Zakowski would not say which. That case is not under investigation because the reporting person had not yet contacted the police, Zakowski said.

Zakowski met with police from De Pere, Green Bay, Ashwaubenon and the Brown County Sheriff's Department Wednesday morning to assess how many cases involving priests were under way. He announced his findings at an afternoon press conference.

Zakowski said his office daily receives reports from the public about crimes, but he doesn't recall any involving priests until recent weeks.

He said police will investigate all of them, and his office will prosecute cases aggressively, but no one will treat the cases differently just because priests are involved.

"There'll be no evidence of a coverup, and there'll be no evidence of a witch hunt," he said.

He said the diocese has been cooperative with investigators.

Diocesan spokesman Tony Kuick said Wednesday that the diocese was unaware that a second allegation had been brought against Browne. The diocese also had no knowledge of the De Pere case and didn't know the name of the accused priest, Kuick said.

He said some allegations concerning priests and sexual abuse have come directly to the diocese, and two of them prompted the diocese to begin reviewing all available personnel records of past and present priests.

"Initially we started going back over records over the last 30 years, and then an allegation came in that was over 50 years old," Kuick said. Although the accused priest in that case is dead, the diocese decided to review all existing personnel records, he said.

The diocese expects to take about two weeks to review more than 200 files.

Zakowski said victims should not let the statute of limitations dissuade them from reporting an accusation of a sex crime by a priest. The statute of limitations is generally six years, but there are some exceptions. For example, a sex crime against a child can still be prosecuted if the victim is under age 31 when he or she reports it.

"We'd encourage anybody who was the victim of a crime to come forward in any case," Zakowski said. "I don't think anybody should say it happened too long ago if they want to come forward.

"It's a matter of whatever is important to the victim. If there's a need for a sense of closure or unresolved anger, we'd certainly encourage that," he said.

 
 

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