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  Public Records Reveal Pattern by Diocese

By Steve Wideman
Post-Crescent
May 31, 2002

One priest allegedly was allowed to maintain his post despite complaints by a woman who said she was abused and tortured while she was a teen-ager.

Another allegedly was moved after diocese officials said they forgot to tell the parish that he was receiving counseling and shouldn't be left alone with boys.

These are two of the nine cases involving troubled priests in the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay that were discovered by dcIdc The Post-Crescent dc/Idc in a search of public records in five east central Wisconsin counties.

dcIdc The P-C dc/Idc combed through civil and criminal court files and police records in Brown, Calumet, Manitowoc, Outagamie and Winnebago counties. All files were open and available for public inspection.

The newspaper withheld the names of the alleged victims of sexual assault.

Diocese officials declined to comment on the cases.

The diocese was to release today the findings of an eight-member task force that looked into cases of alleged sexual abuse by its priests.

dcBdc Winnebago priest asked for forgiveness dc/Bdc

The Rev. Eugene LeRoy Schmidt, now 73, was the subject of a 1992 civil suit filed in Winnebago County by a woman who alleged she was assaulted on numerous occasions while Schmidt was pastor at St. Mary's Parish in Winneconne.

Schmidt retired in 1991. The case eventually was dismissed based on statutes of limitations.

The victim alleged in court records that Schmidt sexually assaulted her from 1968 through 1972, when she was 13 to 17 years old.

The incidents include allegations Schmidt took pornographic pictures of her, had a dog urinate on her, took her to strip clubs in Green Bay and Milwaukee, forced her to drink from a dog bowl telling her she was "less than a dog," assaulted her with a broomstick and eventually asked her to marry him.

Court records indicate neighbors of the church at the time of the alleged assaults notified the diocese about a young girl spending too much time at the rectory. The victim said Schmidt showed her the letters, which she took as a warning to "be more careful."

Schmidt was in ill health and unavailable for comment Thursday, a woman who identified herself as his sister told dcIdc The P-C dc/Idc .

According to court records, the victim wrote a letter in 1982 to then-Green Bay Bishop Aloysius Wycislo outlining the alleged abuse. At the time, Schmidt was pastor at St. Vincent's Church in Oshkosh, a post he held until 1989.

In her letter to Wycislo, the victim said Schmidt "used his collar to gain people's trust and then misrepresented his church (and my faith)." The victim -- who was diagnosed with a multiple personality disorder stemming from stress of the alleged assaults, according to a court-appointed psychiatrist -- said she did not come forward sooner because she felt humiliated and felt a need to protect her family.

Court documents indicate that in January 1983 a rape counselor facilitated a meeting between the victim and Schmidt. In the meeting, Schmidt did not deny the allegations, but asked for forgiveness and said he was "doing good work and should be left to do it."

In a March 1983 letter addressed to Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, the victim complained of a lack of response from the Green Bay diocese, writing, "I cannot escape the feeling that the bureaucracy of the church has placed its representatives above the laws of man."

Weakland also has been at the center of sexual abuse allegations. He was to make a public apology today for the pain caused by a $450,000 settlement the Milwaukee archdiocese made with a man who accused Weakland of sexual assault. The Vatican accepted Weakland's immediate resignation last week. Weakland, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in April, denies assaulting anyone. dcIdc dc/Idc

A court file in the Schmidt case includes a Feb. 24, 1986, memo on diocese letterhead concerning a discussion about the victim between diocese officials, including Auxiliary Bishop Robert Morneau and the vicar of priests, the Rev. David Kiefer, a member of the current diocesan task force.

The memo mentions offers of arrangements for "care of claimant" and an offer of living expenses, if needed. A copy of the memo was forwarded to then-Bishop Adam Maida, who is now a Cardinal in the Detroit diocese. Maida replaced Wycislo as Green Bay's bishop in 1984.

Schmidt is not allowed to perform the functions of a priest, according to diocesan spokesman Tony Kuick.

dcBdc Priest with complaints 'slipped through ... cracks' dc/Bdc

Oshkosh police records indicate a former Fox Valley priest was transferred to parishes in Neenah and Oshkosh in the latter half of the 1980s after facing allegations of sexual assault involving two young boys at Appleton's Sacred Heart Church.

The priest, identified in a 1992 Oshkosh police report as the Rev. Ronald H. Schneider, became the subject of an investigation based on an anonymous citizen complaint filed in 1992.

According to the police report, Schneider served as an associate pastor at Sacred Heart in Appleton for nine years beginning in 1975, before being transferred in 1985 -- during the term of Bishop Maida -- to Neenah's St. Margaret Mary parish, where he served as associate pastor until 1988.

Police records indicate that at least two "incidents" involving underage boys allegedly occurred at Sacred Heart, based on complaints filed with the diocese by parents.

The complaints were acknowledged by Kiefer, then the diocesan vicar of priests, during a 1992 interview with Oshkosh police.

Kiefer told police that Schneider's problem involved voyeurism and allegations that he asked two children to take their clothes off in front of him.

Kiefer acknowledged Schneider was transferred to Neenah but said the diocese forgot to inform the church of the Sacred Heart allegations for nearly two years. During that time, according to the police report, Schneider worked with the Neenah church's Boy Scouts program, assisted in teaching duties and trained altar boys.

Kiefer told police in a Nov. 6, 1992, interview that Schneider "slipped through the cracks." He said St. Margaret Mary pastor, the Rev. Msgr. Eugene Hotchkiss, eventually was notified that Schneider was undergoing counseling and should not be teaching in schools.

The police reports, referring to information provided by Kiefer, stated that "somehow, somebody had forgotten to notify St. Margaret Mary's Church that he (Schneider) was getting psychological counseling and that he had a sexuality problem with young boys."

As part of Schneider's counseling, he was not to have anything to do with children, Kiefer told police.

Kiefer told police that Schneider was transferred to Oshkosh's Sacred Heart Church in 1989, accompanied with a written warning from diocese officials.

Sacred Heart pastor Rev. Theodore Hendricks told police during a Nov. 11, 1992, interview that there was a note "along with his transfer from the Green Bay diocese that Father Ron was not to be associated with children, he should be kept away from children's groups and unsupervised groups." dcIdc dc/Idc

Neither Neenah nor Appleton police had any record of complaints filed against Schneider involving his work with youth.

Schneider, who was not charged or sued in connection with the alleged assaults, was placed on leave from the diocese in 1993 by current Bishop Robert Banks.

Schneider declined comment on Thursday.

dcBdc Diocese priest moved 14 times in 14 years dc/Bdc

The Rev. John Patrick Feeney served 14 parishes in his first 14 years as an ordained priest, according to court records contained in a 1994 civil lawsuit in Manitowoc County.

According to the lawsuit, Feeney allegedly inappropriately touched an underage female during confession in 1958 while serving as associate pastor at Holy Redeemer Church in Two Rivers. Feeney denied the allegation. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court, according to court records.

Feeney began his career as a priest in 1952 as an associate pastor at Green Bay St. Joseph's. He was moved to Kewaunee in 1954, Sturgeon Bay St. Joseph's in 1954, Clintonville in 1955 and Oshkosh St. Peter's in 1956 before moving to Two Rivers.

Feeney continued his transfers as an associate pastor in 1961 at Appleton St. Therese parish before being sent to Chilton St. Mary's parish in 1963, Clarks Mills on a temporary assignment in September 1965, Flintville in October 1965, Francis Creek on temporary assignment in January 1966, Maplewood in April 1966 and Wautoma on temporary assignment in June 1966.

He was assigned as administrator at Elcho Holy Family Parish and also assigned to the St. Mary mission in Pickerel in August 1966.

According to Manitowoc County court documents, the attorney for the girl met resistance from the diocese in getting information involving Feeney's frequent moves during the time of the alleged assault.

In a letter to Manitowoc County Judge Darryl Deets, attorney Robert Elliott said he feared documents relating to Feeney's past were destroyed or otherwise removed from Feeney's file. Court documents indicate Elliott's concern that one diocesan file on Feeney, labeled "Vicar of Priests," allegedly had a notation "materials removed."

The lawsuit, dismissed after an out-of-court settlement was reached, contained a detailed account of Feeney's transfer to parishes in Stockbridge, San Diego, and a prison in Nevada after the diocese learned of allegations involving inappropriate behavior with two boys while assigned as pastor to Freedom's St. Nicholas parish in 1976.

According to Manitowoc County court documents, the parents of the alleged victims in Freedom filed a complaint with the diocese in July 1978 alleging Feeney "snapped" the pajama bottoms of their sons and asked questions about their penises. Feeney denied the charge, saying it was not anything of an unusual manner.

In September 1978, documents indicate the diocese personnel board met and noted a letter sent from then-Bishop Wycislo to Feeney. In the letter, Wycislo said that after an investigation, diocese officials recommended Feeney could stay at Freedom under the condition that he undergo counseling.

"If I were you, I would stay away from young people," Wycislo wrote.

Wycislo told Feeney not to give any instructions in the matter of sex and to be more prudent in hearing confessions.

In January 1979, Wycislo transferred Feeney to St. Mary of the Seven Dolors parish in Stockbridge, noting in a letter to Feeney that it would be his last assignment "if there is any repetition of past problems" and "in the event a trial were to eventuate because of recent allegations against you, you will immediately be suspended and deprived of the faculties of this diocese."

Feeney -- whose career as a priest was marked by controversy in the way he carried on his duties, according to court documents -- was told by Wycislo in 1983 that he could no longer serve in the Green Bay diocese.

A memo on diocese letterhead contained in the 1994 civil suit said Feeney received two written warning letters from Wycislo after the diocese received complaints involving inappropriate touching of a minor and of taking showers with young boys at a high school.

In October 1983, on the eve of Wycislo's resignation as bishop, Wycislo wrote a letter to Feeney, giving him three months to find a job in another diocese with a promise of writing a letter of support. Wycislo said a change to "another atmosphere, new people and new faces" would be in his best interest.

"It is a pity that serving the Diocese of Green Bay for 30 years ends in this way, but, really, haven't we all tried?" Wycislo wrote.

Wycislo gave Feeney permission to seek another diocese and offered salary and benefits for the three-month search.

Wycislo said that if Feeney did not find a new diocese by Jan. 1, 1984, Feeney would have to report to a treatment center or face prosecution for his past actions.

"I think you see the wisdom of this alternative since time and time again I have been advised by civil servants, specifically the Attorney General that unless the diocese promised to provide for treatment you would be prosecuted," Wycislo wrote.

It was unclear whether Wycislo was referring to then-Attorney General Bronson Lafollette.

Lafollette said today that he does not remember the case. dcIdc dc/Idc

Feeney was accepted as a parish priest in San Diego where he served a short time, according to diocese records contained in the Manitowoc County civil suit.

Feeney moved on to the Diocese of Reno/Las Vegas to become chaplain at the Indian Springs Prison until 1986 when, according to diocese documents, he was accused of bringing drug paraphernalia and women's underwear into the prison in exchange for sexual favors from prisoners. Feeney claimed he was set up, but was asked to resign from service in the Reno/Las Vegas diocese.

In December 1986, Feeney was stripped of his priestly powers by Maida, based on his actions at Indian Springs. Feeney was listed as being absent on sick leave from the Green Bay diocese from 1987 to 1990, according to information published in dcIdc The National Catholic Directory, dc/Idc a guide to the Catholic Church published each year since 1817.

In July 1987, a Stockbridge man accused Feeney of sexual assault when the man was a high school student from 1978 or 1979 until 1981, according to Manitowoc County court records. The man's father filed a lawsuit.

During discussions with the alleged victim's father in November 1987, Kiefer, in a memo to himself, noted acknowledging to the alleged victim's father being aware of past "inappropriate" behavior by Feeney that included showering with young boys.

Feeney retired in 1991 in Los Angeles, where he still lives.

Feeney, now 75, on Thursday vehemently denied the 1958 allegations and two other allegations of sexual assault made against him concerning alleged incidents in Freedom and Stockbridge.

"I certainly deny any allegations. I've always been willing to face things," Feeney said.

Feeney was reluctant to discuss his career, but noted he has not been in Wisconsin or active in the ministry for almost two decades.

"It seems to me the allegations were resolved decades ago. It's not quite fair to resurrect them," Feeney said. "The very thing of having the allegations mentioned now seems like a death sentence."

"What seems to be driving the media right now is all the church cover-up," Feeney said. "That's a legitimate concern, but in my case there was no hint of that (cover-up)."

Feeney said he is aware of the Green Bay task force and efforts by the church to be open with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

"I think it is necessary for the church to face whatever problems there may be," Feeney said.

dcBdc Other cases involving diocese priests dc/Bdc

Six other cases reviewed by dcIdc The P-C dc/Idc indicate diocese officials removed priests from their duties and placed them on administrative leave following the making of allegations. Three of these six cases were the subject of past media reports.

n The Rev. Thomas Ronald Stocker was one of two priests named in a 1994 civil suit filed in Brown County by four alleged victims, all males, who claimed that as teen-agers they were sexually assaulted by Stocker on some occasions while another priest allegedly watched and encouraged the abuse.

Stocker could not be reached for comment.

Stocker served as assistant pastor at Green Bay St. Joseph's and De Pere St. Boniface Parish in 1963 before being appointed to pursue Canon Law studies at the Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.) in 1969.

He served as pastor at St. Mary's Parish in Greenleaf from 1978 to 1988 before being assigned to St. James Parish in Cooperstown in 1989 where he remained until being placed on special assignment in 1994 as a reserve priest at St. Agnes Parish in Green Bay. Stocker was placed on leave by the diocese in 1995.

The alleged incidents occurred between 1963 and 1967. According to court records, the alleged assaults occurred at an outdoor movie theater in Green Bay, an Oshkosh motel, a Chicago home and in the priest's car. In a deposition included in the civil case, Stocker acknowledged having sexual contact with at least some of the victims.

The civil case was dismissed on statute of limitation grounds.

n The Rev. Robert Bruce Thompson was the other priest named in the 1994 civil suit filed in Brown County by four alleged victims, all males, who claimed that as teen-agers they were sexually assaulted by another priest while Thompson watched and encouraged the abuse and failed to report the abuse to diocese officials.

One of the alleged victims said Thompson sexually assaulted him. Thompson denied all the allegations, claiming one of the victims made advances on him.

The case was dismissed on statute of limitations grounds, according to information contained in a state District III court of appeals document from 1997.

Thompson served as assistant pastor at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay beginning in 1965. He was appointed as a religion instructor at Oshkosh Lourdes High School in 1967 and became director of the former Newman Center in Oshkosh and coordinator of campus ministries at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1969.

He was appointed full-time chaplain at the Winnebago County Mental Health Institute in 1978. Thompson assumed duties outside the Green Bay Diocese in 1984 moving to Arizona to Tucson's St. Joseph Hospital. In 1987, Thompson moved to the Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Thompson was placed on administrative leave by the Green Bay Diocese in 1995. He died in 1999.

n The Rev. Monsignor Edward Michael Witczak entered no-contest pleas in 1999 to four misdemeanor counts involving sexual contact with a Green Bay woman. The case involved allegations of sexual contact in 1991 when the woman met with Witczak to discuss sexual abuse she experienced when she was younger.

Witczak, who was pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Green Bay at the time of the incidents, paid a fine, according to available court records.

Witczak served as assistant pastor at St. Denis Parish in Shiocton in 1960 before being appointed to the faculty of Sacred Heart Seminary in Oneida the same year. He was named rector at Sacred Heart Seminary in 1968. Witczak served as pastor at Green Bay's Annunciation Parish in 1972 before moving to St. Anthony Parish in Neopit in 1975.

In 1986, Witczak was named spiritual director at the Holy Name Retreat House on Chambers Island until moving to St. Elizabeth Seton in 1991.

He was placed on administrative leave by the diocese when the victim filed a civil suit in 1995. Court records regarding the civil suit were not immediately available.

dcIdc The Post-Crescent dc/Idc was unable to reach Witczak and could not obtain contact information for him from the diocese.

n The Rev. LeRoy Jerome Hogan was placed on leave by the diocese in 1993 after allegations of sexual assault were leveled against him by a 14-year-old boy.

In a 1993 civil suit filed in Brown County, the alleged victim said he was assaulted between the ages of 7 and 9 while a student at St. Edward School in Mackville between 1985 and 1987.

Hogan was pastor at St. Edward from 1979-1990 before transferring to Askeaton's St. Patrick Parish in 1991. Hogan denied all the allegations.

Court documents indicate the civil case was settled out of court with the diocese, led by Bishop Robert Banks, agreeing to pay the alleged victim $65,000, including $25,000 cash and a $40,000 annuity to provide funds for the victim "in case he needs continued treatment." Hogan retired in 1997.

dcIdc The Post-Crescent dc/Idc was unable to reach Hogan and could not obtain contact information for him from the diocese.

n The Rev. Stanley Thomas Browne, pastor of St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Lakewood, is on administrative leave after allegations of sexual abuse were filed with the diocese in March by an attorney for the alleged victim.

The case involves an allegation that he sexually abused a minor in the early 1980s when Browne was assistant pastor at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Green Bay. Browne also served in parishes in Appleton, Hollandtown and Brussels.

Diocese officials took the complaint to Brown County authorities.

n Winnebago County authorities are reviewing a complaint filed with prosecutors in March against a retired Green Bay priest. The complaint alleges the as-yet unnamed priest, who retired nearly a decade ago, was involved with an underage female in Green Bay.

The allegations came forth in March during mounting reports concerning sexual abuse by priests.

 
 

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