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  Local Priests' Futures Hang in Balance As Bishops Meet
Zero Tolerance Would Mean Removal of Three Priests from Active Ministry

By Sam Lucero
Catholic Herald
June 13, 2002

MILWAUKEE -- Members of St. Theresa Parish in Eagle learned last week that their pastor, Fr. Michael Krejci, had inappropriate contact with two teen-agers in 1979. Krejci is one of six archdiocesan priests asked to make public their histories of sexual misconduct. He is the fourth priest who has come forward before a deadline of Sept. 1 set by the archdiocese.

The public disclosure of the six priests in active ministry was the first recommendation made by a commission formed by former Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland last March. The commission is studying the archdiocese's handling of priest sexual abuse cases.

In addition to Krejci, other priests who have made public their histories are Fr. David Hanser, Fr. Thomas Trepanier and Fr. Jerome Wagner.

Hanser, a chaplain at St. Joseph Hospital, retired from that post after a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story detailed his misconduct.

"When he learned that he would be among the six reviewed by the commission, he said he would submit his retirement," said Jerry Topczewski, spokesman for the archdiocese. "Before his retirement date was set, the story became public and he was removed from his position at St. Joseph and he retired."

Trepanier, associate pastor, St. Dominic in Brookfield, resigned from his post and is leaving the priesthood. "He will seek secular employment," said Topczewski. "No process for laicization has yet begun."

Wagner, whose case was also the subject of a Journal Sentinel investigation, continues to serve as a team member of Holy Family Church in Fond du Lac.

Two priests, one retired and another in active ministry, have yet to make their cases public.

"Fr. Joe Hornacek is working with them to make self disclosure available," said Topczewski. "We're expecting that to be done in a timely manner."

Krejci disclosed last Wednesday to parishioners that he inappropriately touched two teen-agers in 1979, while he was associate pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope Parish in Milwaukee. Topczewski did not know if the teens were members of that parish.

"When the incidents occurred, he met immediately, within weeks, with both families, parents of both minors," said Topczewski. "He explained what happened, apologized to them and the teens. Neither family sought to bring charges and he took full responsibility for what he did. He then met with the vicar for clergy several years later, in 1986, and reported what happened. In 1991 he began to seek therapeutic help on his own."

Topczewski said a report in the Journal Sentinel stated that Krejci waited until 1994 to report the incidents to the archdiocese. It also reported that Krejci's treatment included counseling for alcohol abuse. "Fr. Mike has never had a problem with alcohol," he said.

"In 1994 he again disclosed to the vicar for clergy what he had previously disclosed in 1986 and voluntarily left for treatment," said the archdiocesan spokesman.

"At that time he received treatment, both inpatient and outpatient, and returned to ministry in July 1996 ... as assisting priest at St. Theresa and part-time associate at St. Anthony in Pewaukee," said Topczewski. "He was gradually reintroduced to ministry on a full-time basis with full monitoring. Then he became pastor of St. Theresa in June 1999."

Topczewski said Krejci continues to see a counselor on a regular basis. "He meets regularly with a monitor from the diocese and submits written reports with the vicar for clergy. He resides with another priest, Fr. Tom Venne, former vicar for clergy."

When he arrived at St. Theresa Parish, leaders were also informed of Krejci's past, said Topczewski. "He does not have any unsupervised contact with minors. He also meets with two different 12-step groups that have a specific focus on sexual issues. He also meets regularly with his spiritual director and he's part of a priests' support group."

All of this monitoring may be a moot point if the U.S. bishops decide to enact a "zero tolerance, one strike" policy this week in Dallas. A proposed child protection charter, which outlines a national policy on child sexual abuse, will be voted upon this week.

The proposed policy calls for any priest who sexually abuses a minor in the future to be laicized. It also calls for laicization of priests who have abused minors more than once in the past, yet leaves room for rehabilitation for priests who have only one incident of abuse on their record.

However, many bishops have urged that this exemption be removed. If it is, Krejci and Wagner may be removed permanently from the priesthood.

"All three of these men who remain in active ministry, Krejci, Wagner and the one yet to disclose, under a zero tolerance policy, they would need to be removed unless some exception was made for priests who have incidents in the past and have sought treatment," said Topczewski. "If the bishops would go to a zero tolerance policy, past, present and future, they would be removed. We would have no choice but to follow the policy set nationally."

 
 

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