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  9 State Priests Cited in Legal Records

Capital Times
June 25, 2002

Nine Roman Catholic priests in five eastern Wisconsin counties have been accused of some form of sexual abuse, some of it dating back to the 1950s, according to a newspaper's review of police reports and criminal and civil court records.

A 1992 civil lawsuit filed by a woman in Winnebago County alleged that from 1968 through 1972, when she was 13 to 17 years old, a priest at St. Mary's Church in Winneconne abused her, The Post-Crescent of Appleton found.

The priest, the Rev. Eugene LeRoy Schmidt, now 73, took pornographic pictures of her and forced her to drink from a dog bowl, telling her she was "less than a dog," according to court records the newspaper reviewed.

Neighbors of the church at the time of the alleged assaults notified the Green Bay Diocese about a young girl spending too much time at the rectory, the newspaper said.

The lawsuit was dismissed because it was filed too late under state law, the newspaper reported. The priest retired in 1991.

Schmidt has been ill and was not immediately available for comment, his sister said. Schmidt is not allowed to perform the functions of a priest, diocesan spokesman Tony Kuick said.

The Post-Crescent examined public records going back 15 years in Brown, Calumet, Manitowoc, Outagamie and Winnebago counties. The newspaper did not name the alleged victims.

Bishop Robert Banks of the Green Bay Diocese said the cases relate to earlier times when problem priests were moved within the diocese.

"Unfortunately, this was the way things were handled," Banks said. "It is not our practice today, nor has it been for the past 11 years. Our present sexual abuse policies are designed to protect our children and respond immediately to allegations of sexual abuse of a minor."

The woman who made the allegations against Schmidt tried to inform the diocese of the abuse in 1982, the newspaper said.

She also sought help elsewhere. In a March 1983 letter addressed to Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, the woman 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," The Post-Crescent reported.

Other findings in The Post-Crescent's review of police and court records:

In 1992, Oshkosh police, based on an anonymous citizen complaint, investigated allegations that the Rev. Ronald H. Schneider sexually assaulted two young boys at Appleton's Sacred Heart Church sometime before he was transferred to St. Margaret Mary Church in Neenah in 1985.

Schneider was never charged but was placed on leave from the diocese in 1993 by Banks. Schneider declined to comment to the newspaper.

The Rev. David Kiefer, vicar of priests for the Green Bay Diocese, said the diocese did not inform the Neenah church of the allegations for two years and then told the church that Schneider was undergoing counseling and should not be teaching in schools.

Schneider was transferred to Oshkosh's Sacred Heart Church in 1989 with a note from the diocese that he was not to be associated with children and should be kept away from unsupervised groups.

In 1958, the Rev. Patrick Feeney inappropriately touched a juvenile girl during confession when he was an associate pastor at Holy Redeemer Church in Two Rivers, the newspaper said, quoting a 1994 civil lawsuit filed in Manitowoc County.

Feeney denied the allegation and the lawsuit was settled out of court.

In 1983, Feeney was told he could no longer serve in the Green Bay Diocese. He then was accepted as a priest in San Diego. Feeney, now 75, is retired.

In 1994, four men in Brown County filed a civil lawsuit accusing the Rev. Thomas Ronald Stocker of sexually assaulting them between 1963 and 1967 while he served as assistant pastor at St. Joseph's Church in Green Bay and St. Boniface Church in De Pere.

The lawsuit was dismissed because it was filed too late under state law. The newspaper could not reach Stocker for comment.

The men also alleged that the Rev. Robert Bruce Thompson watched Stocker's abuse and encouraged it. The lawsuit was also dismissed. Thompson, who denied the allegations, died in 1999.

The Rev. Monsignor Edward M. Witczak pleaded no contest in 1999 to four misdemeanor counts involving sexual contact with a Green Bay woman in 1991. Witczak, pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Green Bay at the time, paid a fine.

The diocese placed Witczak on administrative leave when the victim filed a civil lawsuit in 1995. The newspaper could not reach Witczak for comment.

In 1993, a 14-year-old boy filed a civil lawsuit in Brown County accusing the Rev. LeRoy J. Hogan of sexually assaulting him while he was a student at St. Edward School in Mackville between 1985 and 1987.

The lawsuit was settled out of court. The diocese agreed to pay the boy $65,000, including $25,000 cash. Hogan denied the allegations and retired in 1997.

The newspaper could not reach Hogan for comment.

The Rev. Stanley Thomas Browne was placed on administrative leave in March after he was accused of sexually abusing a minor in the early 1980s at St. Peter and Paul Church in Green Bay. Diocese officials took the complaint to Brown County authorities.

Winnebago County authorities are reviewing a complaint filed in March against a retired Green Bay priest alleging he was involved with a female child in Green Bay. The priest, whom the newspaper did not name, retired nearly a decade ago.

 
 

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