The Sexual Abuse of Children in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee
By Peter Isely
Archdiocese of Milwaukee
February 10, 2004
"After 1985, all churches in the United States were on notice that they cannot put priests who have had incidents of having sexual abuse in parishes or any setting where they would have access to children. For the church authorities to have allowed this to happen was sinful, more than negligent, and I believe they should be held accountable."
Official history, Camus once observed, is written by those who make history, not those who suffer from it.
A recently published authorized history of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee runs some 800 pages. It is dedicated to the legacy of retired Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, who served the archdiocese from 1977 to 2002. Exhaustively and meticulously chronicled, the document reviews thousands of events and personalities that have shaped the character and quality of the Church of Milwaukee.
What the reader will not locate within this otherwise comprehensive survey is a single recorded instance of the crime of clergy sexual abuse.* Absent also is any indication of what Milwaukee�s Catholic bishops knew or did about these terrible crimes.
This document, drafted on behalf of the victims of childhood sexual abuse by archdiocesan clergy who are currently in group mediation, is an attempt to undo and reverse this official history.
That history has been, and too often continues to be, adversarial to the victims of these crimes and, therefore, the enemy of memory and witness. If there is no place in the history of the church for the affliction that befell so many Catholic children at the hands of clergy sex offenders, how can there be the necessary grief, correction and instruction their testimony demands?
In the following pages the reader will find numerous fragments of memory�testimony, records, documents�that have been pulled from oblivion, which was to be their destination if the church would have succeeded in its intentions. They are only fragments because many of these crimes have never been and never will be reported to any authority. But it is not with unknown crimes that this document concerns itself, but with ones known to church officials.
That makes this document, with its eyewitness accounts and sampling of church records, the latter obtained through luck and guile, a miracle of moral rescue.
Over the centuries, the church has constructed and perfected an elaborate theology and practice of suppressing words it maintains will damage the faithful, what it calls �giving scandal.� One extraordinary letter which escaped official history informs the Vatican about a serial child sex offender in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. The word �scandal� is utilized, almost as a talisman, no less than two dozen times in its one and a half pages. The subject of the letter is a diagnosed pedophile priest who admits to sexually abusing �small children� in a village near Fond du Lac and confirms that he will do it again. He is also refusing treatment. The archbishop welcomes him nonetheless to live in Milwaukee because �nobody knows him down here� and, being unknown, he has �caused no scandal.�
The words recorded here of victims, clergy sexual predators and church officials were not meant to be read by those outside the closed circle of church power--primarily bishops, religious order provincials and their lawyers. To these men, the potency of these words to �give scandal� is where the real evil of clergy sexual abuse lurks and no resource is to be spared to combat it. In fact, twice as much money has been spent by this archdiocese compensating its attorneys than in the support and treatment of victims.
The words recorded here are dangerous; only a handful of church officials were ever meant to see them and determine their true import. The official church feared that these words, if spoken aloud or distributed in print, would challenge and threaten the foundation of Catholic truth in ordinary believers. Unlike the church officials, the ordinary believer may not be able to grasp, through these dark clerical acts, the eternal luminosity of the priesthood or the divine dispensation of Episcopal authority.
The reader of this work will inevitably wonder why these crimes, although repeatedly discovered by Milwaukee church authorities, were allowed to continue, placing children under the care of the archdiocese at risk for several decades. Why did church leaders who knew these crimes were being committed permit them to continue when they might have stopped them? Even the direct testimony of victims and the admissions of offenders were like trees falling silently in the proverbial woods. These words were never really heard; so the crimes could be deemed to never have occurred.
Ingenious efforts were taken to silently but scrupulously examine each case of abuse for its potential to damage the public edifice of the church. Indeed, in the late 1970�s and early 1980�s, these crimes were sufficiently threatening to Milwaukee�s bishops that they felt compelled to let lawyers in on their dark secrets.
The details of many of these crimes remain, to this day, locked in church files, warehoused in a so-called �secret archive� which must be maintained, according to centuries old canon law, by every diocese in the world. The civil law guards these files as well, at least in Wisconsin, where two state Supreme Court rulings in the 1990�s immunized religious organizations from civil lawsuits due to sexually abusive clergy. These decisions determined that holding the church accountable for its conduct in civil courts�as church officials in Boston and the rest of the nation are�would amount to an unconstitutional interference with the free exercise of religion.
Sufficient documentation of church duplicity, however, has escaped its keepers and form, along with the testimony of victims, the heart of this report. These documents confirm, beyond doubt, the depressing truth that Archbishop Weakland knew that the sexual abuse of children was occurring in his archdiocese. Yet he repeatedly decided to place the safety of �the church�--a handy rationale for placing himself, archdiocesan managers and clergy sex offenders under the same liability free tent--before the safety of children. The archbishop�s reputation--as a foe to Vatican backwardness and obfuscation, the champion of enlightened religious intelligence and liturgical practice in a theologically dark time--is revealed for all its grand insignificance, at least for those children who were raped and sodomized by the clergy under his authority. It is, as William James would have said, a difference that made no difference.
The reader will find other religious leaders as well, all under Archbishop Weakland�s authority, discussing �felony crimes against children punishable by prison time in the United States,� and plotting to aid and abet child sex offenders� escape from detection and prosecution. Senior officials devised to preserve clergy sex offenders� �good names� and Catholics �their faith.� The Milwaukee Archdiocese deemed this deception an acceptable trade-off when the alternative would have been scores of priests in prison and bishops facing public disgrace.
As for victims who might interfere with this careful strategy, they were dealt a combination of pastoral razzle-dazzle and thinly veiled legal threats. As one church attorney succinctly put it, victims had better �zip it up or else.� Prior to the Supreme Court decisions, victims presenting to the archdiocese for help would be greeted by its outreach director�s admonition that if you �cooperate� with the church, you will be treated kindly, but �if you get adversarial with the church, the church will get adversarial with you.� After the Supreme Court provided civil immunity, such tough talk was no longer necessary. It was sufficient to simply inform victims that �there is no chance to sue the church in Wisconsin.�
There are likely well over one hundred perpetrators with sex offenses substantiated by the archdiocese and religious orders in the Milwaukee archdiocese. Given the extremely low rate of victim reporting of sexual abuse � only 7 percent in one study � the number of acknowledged perpetrators represents only a fraction of the clergy sex offenders who have operated in the Milwaukee archdiocese. Most of the perpetrators are thought to still be alive. However, the archdiocese has refused to reveal their whereabouts.
In one letter from a religious order provincial, a friar stationed in Milwaukee and known to have abused over a dozen youngsters, is assured that he has no reason to fret. Despite what the priest and the provincial had feared, �there is no network of individuals out there�; the priest�s numerous young victims had not made contact with each other and put the pieces of the cover-up together. Indeed, the Capuchin lawyers are quite �satisfied� that they never will. The razzle-dazzle and intimidation are working seamlessly. But the priest must tell the Capuchin attorneys, protected by privilege of course, the names of his other victims, the vast majority of which have not made their way to provincial headquarters. Do not tell me the names, the provincial cautions, but do tell the lawyers. Do that, the letter implies, and I will leave you alone in your comfortable apartment, unsupervised and unencumbered. Do that and you may continue your parish ministry in which you may continue to take vulnerable boys camping and traveling. Do that even though treatment providers have told me your prognosis for stopping offending �is not too bright.� Do that and the Capuchins will continue to supply your rent, monthly stipend, a nice car and full medical coverage.
The priest supplied the names. And the provincial was as good as his word.
A section of this work is devoted to the sexual abuse of countless youngsters by Capuchin pedophiles because a cache of church documents concerning the religious order became available. The Capuchins are, presumably, no worse than any other group of clerics working in the archdiocese. Yet, so widespread were their crimes against youth that a senior Capuchin official could remark in 1980, well before the truth of clergy sexual abuse became public, that �one day� the Capuchins would �be on the cover of Time� for it. The Capuchin documents include the anguished testimony of victims who lived through these horrific events. �Lived through� was not in all cases accurate, for documented here are stories of those who, unable to bear the childhood memories of abuse or the indifference and ill treatment of church leaders, took their own lives.
The most important feature of this work is the testimony of victims, whose combined words create a single and indelible voice of moral witness. The religious elite of the Catholic Church turned a deaf ear to that witness. The response painfully contrasts with the founding story of the church itself, which is the account of a victim whose voice was silenced by human violence and restored by divine love.
Even as the American bishops anticipate the release in February of 2004 of what they claim will be the true number of clergy involved in these crimes, they are fully cognizant that numbers are not words. And it is words they fear most. Practiced in the art of speech, masters of spiritual rhetoric and persuasion, much of the work of being a bishop, as any leader, is to daily harness words to create various and sundry effects.
On the other hand, no one is more cognizant of the poverty of words than the victims of the crimes detailed here. There is an innocence of speech in their testimony that mirrors the innocence of the children who were raped. It is innocence recognized only in its loss. Paradoxically, that innocence is rarely acknowledged or affirmed by the victim, who cannot grasp that the universe can be so arbitrary and capricious as to select him for such inexplicable treatment. In the infernal dynamic of child sexual abuse it is rarely the criminal, after all, who feels the moral repugnance of his act. Instead, it is the victim who absorbs the moral horror, which should logically be felt by the perpetrator. It is literally dumped by the criminal into the child�s soul. Between the child and the sex offender it is only the child who possesses a moral point of gravity. Moral weight falls effortlessly from the criminal, who has managed to fall beneath the calculus of good and evil, onto the child victim who must now carry its awful and impossible mass or be crushed by it.
When a victim of child abuse discloses his story, every listener is placed into the same moral crucible in which the crime was first commissioned. What is the listener to do with the weight of this testimony?
In the pages that follow, those who heard this testimony were most often bishops and other church authorities. Would they join the victim and yoke themselves to the moral weight the victim was carrying? Or would they join the criminal and multiply the terrible weight the victim would now have to bear?
That decision, or the willed avoidance of it, is what this document is really about.
Sources for this report span over three decades of documents and testimony
Most evidence and information concerning clergy sexual misconduct in the
archdiocese remains unavailable because church authorities will not release
documents and records. The cumulative evidence from the above sources indicates,
Number of clergy sex offenders in the archdiocese
In the most recent report on clergy sexual abuse, released in September 2003, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee revealed that 58 ordained men under the direct supervision of the Archbishop of Milwaukee�a number that does not include religious order priests which comprise nearly half of all ordained clergy in the archdiocese--have documented allegations of sexually assaulting minors.
The archdiocese claims that reports concerning 10 of these individuals are �unsubstantiated,� but the criteria for substantiation have never been disclosed. Some of these individuals appear to be under current investigation by church authorities. Patrick Schiltz, associate dean of the University of St. Thomas Law School, a Catholic institution in Minneapolis, has handled over 500 clergy abuse cases over the past 15 years for the church. �False reports are extremely rare,� Schiltz told the New York Times last year. There were less than 10 he �even suspected were false.�
Subtracting the 10 �unsubstantiated� reports, the archdiocese knows of 48 ordained men who have sexually assaulted youngsters. Thirty-three of these men are alive.
This figure misrepresents, however, the true number of sexually abusive clergy known by church authorities to be operating in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee under the direct supervision of the archbishop.
Currently, there are 445 diocesan priests living in the nine-county archdiocese, 255 of them in public ministry. The rest are retired, on leave, or working outside the archdiocese.
The archbishop is also the canonical supervisor of 361 religious order priests and brothers, 2,764 women religious and 163 ordained deacons.
The problem of sexual abuse by members of religious order communities is well known by the American bishops. Experts believe that the unique social and organizational features of religious life may actually exacerbate the problem of clerical abuse in some of these communities.
For example, a long-established religious order in the archdiocese, the Capuchin Franciscans, has acknowledged that at least nine of its friars committed acts of sexual abuse or misconduct at its minor seminary located in Mt. Calvary. Along with the school, the Capuchins operate numerous parishes and ministries, all under the jurisdiction of the archdiocese.
Very conservatively, then, the number of clergy in the archdiocese reported for sexually abusing youngsters should double, to at least 110. And this number estimates only the documented cases which, because of the underreporting discussed below, certainly falls far short of the true number of offenders in this archdiocese. It can be safely presumed that most of these men and women are still living.
Finally, there is the problem of sexual abuse by non-ordained archdiocesan personnel, such as Catholic schoolteachers, lay ministers and counselors. The archdiocese, with its almost 700,000 Catholics, employs hundreds of professionals and volunteers in its many parishes, schools, hospitals and other ministries. The numbers of such individuals known by the archdiocese to have committed acts of sexual abuse remains undisclosed.
The number of victims assaulted by clergy, religious and archdiocesan personnel is difficult to ascertain. Offenders rarely self-report and victims are extremely reluctant to come forward.
Some estimates, however, can be calculated by using the number of victims that have contacted the archdiocese. That number can be compared to the reporting rate among the general population or a subset of the population, such as youngsters sexually abused in public schools.
Studies have long shown that sexual assault and abuse, occurring at any age and no matter the perpetrator�s identity, are grossly underreported. It is estimated that somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of these crimes are ever reported.
For instance, a recent report by the New York Times summarizing the results of current studies of sexual abuse among school age students found that only 7 percent of these incidents were ever reported.
Number of victims in the archdiocese
According to the archdiocese�s September 2003 report, over the last nine years victims abused by clergy in the archdiocese have made approximately 300 reports to archdiocesan officials.
Court documents reveal that the archdiocese, which claims it had no formal record keeping procedures for such reports, recorded some 29 complaints of clergy sexual abuse of minors before 1992 in which administrative action was taken.
1992 to 1994 were years of intense media attention to the problem of clergy sexual abuse in the archdiocese. By that time the archdiocese had established an office for dealing with sexual abuse complaints. It is unclear why the number of sexual abuse reports received during these years, which would have been substantial, are absent from the September 2003 archdiocesan summary.
When factoring in religious orders then, and using only the archdiocese�s September 2003 figures, it is reasonable to assume that at least 600 victims have contacted church authorities to report sexual abuse against minors in the archdiocese.
Placing the reporting rate at 10 percent, or 3 percent higher than the reporting rate for the nation�s schools, the total number of victims from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee would be approximately 6,000.
How many of these children and youngsters would never have been abused had the church discontinued its secret practice of placing clergy offenders back into parishes and schools will never be known.
In a nationwide survey by the New York Times, the only one of its kind yet compiled, the Milwaukee Archdiocese ranked 11 among the 168 dioceses in the United States in the number of abusive priests.
In March of 2002, Archbishop Rembert Weakland told priests in a confidential email that the number of priests in the archdiocese with reports of sexually abusing minors was 35.
The number of abusive clerics in Boston, the archbishop insisted in a rare television interview, �doesn�t tell the story.� Boston and Milwaukee were �being lumped together,� he complained. If the archdiocese was being �cautious� about giving numbers it was because �the press gives the impression that Boston had 80 priests accused, therefore there were 80 out there picking on little kids and that would be a false image.�
�Milwaukee,� insisted the archbishop �is not Boston.�
In Boston, the percentage of abusive priests is 5.3 percent. In Milwaukee, the percent of accused priests, even at the underreported number of 35, is 7.2 percent.
The archdiocese has released partial figures detailing the costs of clergy sexual abuse to Catholics in the archdiocese of Milwaukee. The archdiocese has not disclosed the full financial burden of assisting offender priests, including treatment and living expenses, health care, retirement benefits and other related costs.
Under Archbishop Weakland, twice as much money was paid for attorney fees than for therapy and assistance to victims of sexual abuse.
In the first year of Archbishop Weakland�s successor, Timothy Dolan, that ratio has increased dramatically from 2:1 to 5:1. Even when including out of court settlements, the archdiocese has paid twice as much to attorneys as to victims under the new archbishop.
Culture of secrecy
Although the Church has long acknowledged and grappled with the problem of sexual abuse by clergy, it has rarely done so openly.
The Vatican archives house a number of documents related to clerical sexual misconduct over the centuries but most of these materials are unavailable to even Church scholars and historians. Canon law requires that every diocese and religious order province maintain what is titled a �secret archive� for all material related to clerical misconduct and other sensitive matters.
Ample evidence exists, nonetheless, that Church authorities since at least the Middle Ages recognized the seriousness of the problem. Sexual misconduct by priests, especially against children and minors, was considered a particularly grave offense that required swift punitive and canonical action, as well as an extraordinary degree of secrecy in its handling.
The secrecy was typically justified to �prevent scandal� and engineered to protect the public integrity and teaching authority of the Church.
A recently discovered 1963 Vatican document signed by Pope John XXIII provides extensive instructions for maintaining strict secrecy in dealing with sexually abusive clergy. The directives prescribe excommunication for all parties, including the victim, if the incidents are revealed outside of the canonical proceedings conducted by the offender�s fellow clerics.
At their 1985 biannual Fall meeting in Washington, D.C., the American bishops were given a confidential study detailing the nature, scope and potential financial liability of the problem of pedophile clergy in the United States. The director of the Church�s largest treatment institute and legal experts in American and Church law authorized the lengthy report. The document�s conclusions underscored the clinically incurable nature of pedophilia and provided extensive recommendations on how to deal with the problem.
The 1985 study was delivered with an unusually severe warning to the bishops that immediate steps needed to be taken to address the problem of sexually abusive clergy or the results could be catastrophic for the American church.
Rather than following the report�s warning, however, bishops accelerated the transfer of abusive priests out of their respective jurisdictions to avoid criminal prosecution. An extensive section of the 1985 report describes in detail the child sexual abuse reporting laws in jurisdictions across the United States and explains how those laws were, or might, be circumvented.
Some offenders were secretly placed in church operated �treatment� or �retreat� facilities. After a period of time, bishops and religious order provincials would return the offender, still unreported, to new ministries and parishes.
A number of these facilities were located in New Mexico and operated by a Catholic religious order dedicated to the care of priests. Criminal investigations and civil complaints in the 1990�s eventually led to the closing of these centers. Some dozen other such centers still operate in the United States and Canada.
As for unsuspecting Catholics, various �cover� stories were devised to explain the often abrupt departures of clergy. In the Catholic Church�s management structure, no lay body or individual exercises authority over the hiring, placement, review, transfer or dismissal of clergy. Local bishops make all such decisions.
If questioned, church officials typically responded that suddenly absent clergy were on leave for personal or medical reasons. Others were on �special assignment� helping overburdened ministries elsewhere.
Authority of the bishop
Recent revisions in Canon law due to the sexual abuse crisis in the Church have left unchanged the unique institutional authority of the Catholic hierarchy, especially the canonical power vested in the local bishop in all matters of church policy and practice.
Although divided across the United States into a myriad of non-profit corporations, the Catholic Church has a unique social and legal status, due in part to the constitutional protections afforded religious practice in the United States. This is especially true in Wisconsin, which extended those protections in two mid-1990�s Supreme Court rulings shielding religious organizations from civil liability for sexually abusive clergy.
The Catholic Church also enjoys a profound spiritual, organizational and managerial tie to the Vatican, which operates as a sovereign state and enjoys special diplomatic status recognized by the United States government. This designated status has led some observers to suggest a kind of corporate immunity from child sexual abuse laws exists.
At their biannual national conference in the early 1980�s, some bishops met in a private seminar to discuss cases of priest sexual abuse. The suggestion was offered that members consider delivering �sensitive� information to the Papal Nuncio, since his pouch was covered by diplomatic immunity. Unknown to the seminar leader (the bishop who made the suggestion), the comments were tape-recorded. That bishop is now the Archbishop of Cleveland and his diocese is currently the subject of a grand jury investigation into clergy sexual abuse.
In the Summer of 2002, the American bishops enacted canonical revisions of their legal structure in response to the outpouring of criticism by American Catholics concerning their handling of sexually abusive clergy and the lack of pastoral response towards victims.
In January of that year startling revelations of widespread, decades-long sexual abuse of children and institutional cover-up in the Boston Archdiocese were appearing in newspapers and television stories across the United States.
Opinion polls conducted since the early 1990�s show that a large majority of American Catholics, nearly 80% in a recent survey, believe that any member of the clergy who has committed an act of sexual abuse against a minor should be removed from the clerical state. An even larger majority, 97% in a 2002 Gallup poll, further believes that a cardinal or bishop known to have transferred a sex offender cleric should be removed from his office.
An extensive Dallas Morning News 2002 survey of public reports and court records from around the United States demonstrated that at least two thirds of the current hierarchy of the Catholic Church has engaged in the practice of secretly transferring known sex offenders.
Although a handful of bishops have resigned over the past two years when their own involvement in sexual misconduct was made public, only one member of the American hierarchy, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, has resigned as a consequence of transferring known sex offender clergy.
Throughout his final year in office, the Cardinal was under extraordinary public pressure to resign. The continual release and publication of documents in the Boston Globe detailed the Cardinal�s routine practice of transferring known sex offender priests. But most observers believe it was the unprecedented action of some 50 Boston priests� public call for his resignation in December of 2002 that finally forced the Vatican to remove the senior prelate.
The unique authority of the bishop�s office has not been altered during the current crisis. To the disappointment of some American Catholics pressing for reform, there is no indication from either the Vatican or the American bishops that this is likely to occur.
Any lay church involvement in dealing with abusive priests, as in the establishment of new sexual abuse review panels required by the American bishops in their 2002 revisions, is solely dependent on the local bishop. Cases are only reviewed if the bishop deems it necessary. The board�s access to information and witnesses is entirely at the bishop�s discretion and all recommendations are non-binding.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee
In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, as with other dioceses around the United States, the existence of sexually abusive clergy and the church�s awareness of the problem began surfacing in the late 1970�s. Knowledge of the problem was obtained largely through media investigations or criminal and civil cases. This trend continued throughout the 1980�s and peaked in the early to mid-1990�s when the issue mushroomed into a national scandal.
1992 was a watershed year in public awareness of the crisis, nationally and locally.
Extensively reported cases of clerical sexual misconduct by archdiocesan clergy appeared that year and the years following in the pages of the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel and in ongoing local television news coverage. Criminal and civil cases, such as those brought in 1993 against several Capuchin-Franciscan priests and brothers operating St. Lawrence High School Seminary outside of Fond du Lac, gained national notoriety as well.
Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions
Given the typical delay in reporting childhood sexual abuse until the victim is well into adulthood, most criminal cases fell, and continue to fall, outside the criminal statute of limitation. Civil cases, then, became the principal means employed by victims to expose clergy sex offenders, force church authorities to answer for managerial actions, and obtain key documents and testimony concerning abusive clergy. Knowledge of the extensive nature of clergy sexual abuse and the role of church officials in Boston, for instance, resulted almost entirely from civil proceedings. A 1995 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, Pritzloff v. the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, held that civil cases filed against religious organizations for such acts as negligent supervision of sex offender clergy would entangle the judiciary in the free exercise of religion. A 1997 decision, Doe v. the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, essentially ensured that victims of clergy sexual abuse in Wisconsin would have no civil redress against the archdiocese and the religious orders operating within it.
According to attorneys litigating or preparing to litigate cases against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in the mid-1990�s, over one hundred clergy sexual abuse cases were dropped due to the decision.
In all likelihood, if the legal climate in Massachusetts were that of Wisconsin, the current scandal, which has removed hundreds of sex offenders from ministry with children, reformed Canon law and brought forward many thousands of victims, would probably never have engulfed the Catholic Church.
No Legal Remedy
During 2002 and 2003 new cases were filed in three Wisconsin dioceses which asserted a new cause of action of intentional fraud for concealing knowledge of sexually abusive priests. Although a similar cause of action is moving cases through the courts in Michigan, the Wisconsin cases have been dismissed pursuant to Pritzloff and Doe. A few of those cases remain on appeal.
There is pending legislation that addresses the unique legal climate for clergy abuse victims in Wisconsin which includes proposals extending the civil and criminal statutes of limitation and placing clergy on the list of professionals mandated to report child sexual abuse. There is also a provision permitting those abused by clergy as minors to bring a cause of action against a religious organization if church managers knew of the cleric�s abusive behavior.
The bill�s current language, however, does not permit for any retroactivity in the statutes. In other words, current victims will remain without recourse to Wisconsin courts.
Effect of court decisions
The effect of the Supreme Court rulings on victims who sought to expose priest sex offenders and the managerial actions of bishops has been devastating and demoralizing.
After most cases were dropped in 1995, church lawyers aggressively sought to recover court costs from victims, going so far as to put liens on victims� homes. It made no difference that in at least one case the perpetrator admitted he had committed the crime. As of October 2002, this type of punitive action against victims was still being taken by the archdiocese.
The Wisconsin court rulings also affected public awareness of the problem.
In the Spring of 2002, with revelations from Boston mounting, Liz Piasecki, appointed by Archbishop Weakland to manage the church�s public response to the problem, told the Christian Science Monitor that the problem of abusive priests, unlike Boston, didn�t exist in Milwaukee.
�There is no civil litigation here, like Boston,� according to Piasecki.
Problem would be over
In his last public interview on the matter of clerical sexual abuse before the Boston scandal erupted in 2002, Archbishop Weakland told the Milwaukee Journal in late 1994 that the problem of sexual abuse and the church would be �over� in �one or two years.�
The archbishop�s confidence, undoubtedly, reflected that of his legal team on the eve of their Supreme Court victories. But he also discerned a unique opportunity to end local media scrutiny of the problem, something that had been dogging him since the late 1980�s.
Public spokesperson for the church
Archbishop Weakland was a visible and adept media personality and appeared to relish his role as public spokesperson for the Catholic Church. The archbishop often argued that a new public presence was required of post-Vatican II bishops where the church was called to cooperate fruitfully and openly with the struggles of secular society. His position in the 1980�s as Chair of the American Bishop�s Pastoral on the Church and the Economy, along with his opinions on the role of women and laity in the church, brought him national recognition.
The archbishop, however, found himself at odds with the press over the issue of sexually abusive clergy.
Still, according to the editor of the Milwaukee Journal, the archbishop was pleased in November of 1992 when the paper offered to publish, unedited, an essay by him on the topic of clergy sexual abuse for the front page of its Sunday edition. In fact, the paper had earlier that year reprinted a lengthy and glowing biography of Archbishop Weakland written by the archbishop�s close friend, journalist Paul Wilkes.
The paper, however, also decided to publish a reply to the archbishop by a local victim of clergy sexual abuse that appeared the following Sunday, also unedited and on the front page. The paper took the unusual step of providing the archbishop with a copy of the response before publication.
The next month the archbishop wrote in his weekly �Herald of Hope� column for the Catholic Herald:
As I travel around the archdiocese, I find that the anger of so many Catholics against TV (especially channels 4 and 12), and against the two dailies in Milwaukee has reached an unprecedented peak.The next year, the archbishop�s anger had, indeed, not dissipated.
He sent a letter to over 1,000 archdiocesan priests and religious leaders attacking the media for its �vicious and vindictive� treatment of the Catholic Church. He singled out the Milwaukee Journal in particular. He recommended the letter be read from Sunday pulpits.
The paper had just reported on documents which revealed that the archbishop had transferred convicted sex offender Father William Effinger across various parishes in the archdiocese after discovering he was abusing children.
That same year, Cardinal Law of Boston, also facing media scrutiny, was likewise railing against the �anti-Catholic� bias of the press, calling the �wrath of God� down on the Boston Globe.
Media relations improve
By 1995, however, the two Milwaukee papers had merged. There was a shake-up of the editorial staff, including the retirement of the senior editor of the Milwaukee Journal who assumed a position at Columbia University.
A long-time columnist for the Milwaukee Journal, Joel McNally, reported in an article that appeared in the April 6, 2002 edition of the Madison Capitol Times that an �entourage of church officials� met with the paper�s new editor Mary Jo Mesiner in 1995. They �demanded� she �kill� an investigative series about to be published on the Catholic Church and sexual abuse.
One article was an extensive interview with a former priest who was welcomed in 1992 by Archbishop Weakland to the archdiocese even though he had recently been arrested for sexually assaulting a boy in Superior. In the story, he not only admits to sexually abusing dozens of children but also shares his knowledge of other abusive priests, including a �ring� of at least four or five clerics from Milwaukee and Green Bay who were regularly traveling to Mexico for sex with boys.
Other reports in the series detailed how the archdiocese had paid millions of dollars in hush money to silence victims and the aggressive legal strategy of archdiocesan lawyers.
The award winning religion reporter who wrote the series had been covering the sexual abuse problem in the Milwaukee archdiocese for nearly a decade. According to McNally, she was �pulled off the religion beat and exiled to covering suburban village board meetings.�
The series never ran.
More significantly, the paper had filed motions to unseal court documents in civil cases filed against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. These documents included depositions of clergy sex offenders, bishops, and archdiocesan senior management, as well as personnel records and reports concerning sexually abusive clergy.
Without explanation, the paper dropped its motions in 1995.
�The Milwaukee Journal in 1995 would have uncovered the information that the Boston Globe did that broke open this scandal,� according to McNally, referring to a Massachusetts Superior Court 2002 ruling that unsealed documents in cases filed against the Boston Archdiocese. �Who knows how many kids might have been spared,� lamented the former columnist.
In 2003, the Boston Globe was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its reporting of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.
For the archbishop there were also ongoing concerns related to the costs of managing the problem of abusive clergy.
After years of litigation with insurance carriers who refused to pay for sexual abuse claims, a settlement was reached between the archdiocese and its principal carriers in 1999.
The archbishop was particularly vexed at the insurance industry�s refusal to cover the costs related to sexual abuse by priests. In 1994 he blamed insurance lawyers for the aggressive legal tactics that �some dioceses� were taking, including counter-claiming against parents and victims. �So the insurance lawyers are our major problem.�
As for Milwaukee, the archdiocese would sue the insurance companies for not covering costs. �I feel that insurance companies are not sympathetic to the pastoral issues of bishops,� the archbishop complained.
According to an April 2002 Washington Post story, the Milwaukee Archdiocese insisted in their 1999 settlement with insurance carriers that all documents related to the contested cases be shredded.
According to Judge Hansher, �The archdiocese wanted to destroy papers because they showed how much money it had spent on treatment, litigation and settlements related to sexual abuse.�
State of the art
The same year the archdiocese was shredding documents, a Fond du Lac pastor, Fr. John O�Brien, was pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a youth who was seeing him for counseling.
When Father O�Brien was sentenced, archdiocesan officials were nowhere to be found, although the priest not only served in Fond du Lac parishes but also was the long- time guidance counselor at the local archdiocesan high school.
The news barely received public notice.
For years, however, Archbishop Weakland boasted he had created the premier institutional response for reaching out to victims, offenders, parishes and schools which he designated �Project Benjamin.�
�If you were to call the U.S. Catholic Conference in Washington, D.C. and ask what program to look at, they would say, �Look at Milwaukee, it�s the state-of-the-art,�� the archbishop proudly proclaimed in 1994.
When abuse occurred in a Catholic parish or ministry, the pastoral presence of the archdiocese, he repeatedly claimed, was swift, visible and effective.
According to the program�s 1992 manual, the presence of the bishop in the parish affected by sexual abuse is �essential� and he would be visiting �as soon as possible, at least within 2-3 weeks.�
Project Benjamin would offer immediate assistance to those victimized, not only the �primary victims but others including family members and parishioners,� conducting therapy and leading support groups.
Project Benjamin officials would meet immediately with the parish staff and prepare for the bishop�s visit. Included in the meeting would be the program director, the vicar of clergy, an attorney, mental health professionals and a trained group facilitator.
The program would then �facilitate meetings of parishioners, teens and children to begin the healing process through receiving information, processing feelings and praying together.�
Nowhere to be found
When over a half a dozen priests were removed from active parish ministry in 2002, however, the two bishops from the Milwaukee Archdiocese and Project Benjamin officials were invisible to the affected congregations which were experiencing the shock and upheaval of learning their pastors and priests were sex offenders.
Project Benjamin�s part-time director told a women�s spirituality group in May of 2002, with a reporter present, that the archdiocese was �operating like a fire department.� There was little that was being done �outside of answering immediate calls.�
The Project Benjamin director also said that the internal guidelines requiring reporting of sexual abuse to civil authorities had not always been observed.
That same month the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board called for the replacement of Project Benjamin by a �program not so directly tied to the Catholic Church.�
At the very least the Milwaukee Roman Catholic Archdiocese needs to follow up on a community commission�s recommendation to contract with one or more outside agencies to provide victim assistance either as a supplement to the archdiocese�s Project Benjamin or an alternative to it.
The recommendation was not followed.
Just a few months before the troubles in Boston began to appear and spread to Milwaukee, Archbishop Weakland was preparing to enter an active retirement as one of the nation�s leading Catholic liberal churchmen. His earlier prediction to the Milwaukee Journal in 1994 that the problem of clergy sexual abuse would be over in a year or two appeared fully vindicated.
The archdiocese could not be sued in Wisconsin courts due to the 1995 and 1997 Supreme Court rulings and victims could quietly but aggressively be pursued for court costs.
The defeat of a clergy reporting bill in 1993 assured that the archbishop would never have to report the abuse of a child. He could transfer or retire abusive clergy without ever contacting the police and no law would be broken.
Meddling reporters were no longer investigating clerical sexual abuse in Milwaukee. The legal challenge to unseal court documents by the state�s leading newspaper had fortuitously disappeared.
Information on the cost of the abusive clergy would remain secret and documents could be safely shredded.
As for victims, according to the Project Benjamin director, the church would �offer to listen� to those who �cooperated� and �forgave� but would, if need be, �become adversarial.� Victims were told when contacting the program, �You can�t sue the church in Wisconsin�so you�re not going to get any money.� If counseling was offered treatment would be managed by the church and terminated at will and without independent review, despite the recommendations of providers.
No one was any longer demanding that the archbishop meet with victims or their families, much less victim organizations or advocates. In the meantime, clergy with known histories of abusing youngsters remained in ministry unknown to parishioners or parents.
Known only to a handful of individuals, however, was one last hurdle for the archbishop to overcome in order for him to permanently shut the door on the sexual abuse problem. It concerned his own involvement in what he would later call �an inappropriate relationship� with an adult male and a secret church settlement in 1998 to cover it up.
By that year civil claims against churches in Wisconsin for clerical sexual misconduct were virtually impossible. Yet, unknown to Catholics, the archdiocese would pay nearly half a million dollars in �hush money� to an adult male who claimed that he had been sexually abused by the archbishop.
A prominent Catholic foundation, which was the source of the money, had no knowledge of the payoff. The foundation policy was that no monies could be used by the archdiocese to cover expenses related to sexually abusive clergy.
A 1980 letter from the archbishop to the alleged victim acknowledges a sexual relationship. The man, Paul Marcoux, was a former Marquette theology student. He first met the archbishop in 1979 to discuss a possible vocation.
Sometime after the alleged incident, the archbishop privately �confided� his �improper relationship� to Milwaukee District Attorney, E. Michael McCann. When the story was made public in late May 2002 by ABC news and the Marcoux letter published in the New York Times, McCann would say that he had determined �in his mind� that �no crime had taken place.� No questions were asked of the archbishop.
Why the Archbishop of Milwaukee confided in the county�s chief law enforcement officer the intimate details of his sexual life remains a mystery. According to the district attorney, a prominent Milwaukee Catholic, he and Archbishop Weakland were �friends� but �not good friends.�
Time for renewal
By 1999, the troubles with Paul Marcoux believed to be safely behind him, Archbishop Weakland was determined to complete a Ph.D. at Columbia University in sacred music.
It had been a difficult and tumultuous decade for the prelate, at least regarding the clergy sexual abuse crisis. In late 1994, at the height of the public crisis, the archbishop confided to a reporter that it had taken quite a toll on him: �I have become a lot grayer. I really have. I�ve aged�I don�t think [the clergy who have abused children] have any idea of the repercussions of their acts on other people.�
It was time for spiritual and personal renewal. What better salve to help mend the wounds of the difficult decade than a retreat into his great avocation, the diaphanous world of ancient Christian chant?
The archbishop�s 465 page doctoral thesis was entitled, �The Office Antiphons of the Ambrosian Chant.� He received the added honor of �with distinction� when awarded his diploma.
Topic not raised
Rested, Archbishop Weakland returned to Milwaukee with his diploma in hand and ready to complete another work of sacred aesthetics, what would be his signature project as archbishop, the renovation of the downtown Cathedral. The archbishop soon found himself in trouble with Vatican officials and conservative Catholics, as he had in the past, this time over the new design for the church. For a short while, construction was halted.
But, as he had often managed to do, the resourceful prelate found a way to overcome obstacles and completed the Cathedral just in time for his final year as archbishop.
By late 2001, with his ten million-dollar cathedral renovation project underway, the archbishop felt comfortable enough with the press to grant the Milwaukee Journal an extensive interview, something he had not done since 1994.
The topic of sexual abuse and the clergy was not raised.
The Marcoux settlement became a national story in May 2002 just weeks before the American bishops were to meet in Dallas for an unprecedented vote to revise Canon law in order address the sexual abuse problem. The large settlement--given the church�s virtual immunity in Wisconsin courts and the archbishop�s professed innocence--brought criticism from Catholics around the country, including those sympathetic with the archbishop. Some maintained that his relationship proved the oppressive nature of church law on celibacy and homosexuality. As one Catholic observer told the New York Times, upon reading the archbishop�s letter to Marcoux, the archbishop had �loved too much� or �loved too well.�
For clergy sexual assault victims, who had lost their opportunity to proceed with their cases in Wisconsin courts, news of the settlement was particularly agonizing.
How could the Church, which immediately after the Pritzloff decision offered those raped or sodomized by clergy $5,000.00 each for their signatures on confidential settlement agreements, provide such an enormous sum of church money to an adult for an incident the archbishop insisted never took place?
It is not known how many cases of sexually abusive clergy Archbishop Weakland inherited when he assumed his new post in 1977.
Of the hundreds of known reports of abuse, only three were recorded by the archdiocese under Archbishop Weakland�s predecessor, Archbishop Willliam Cousins, who served from 1956-1977.
Archbishop Cousins appears to have rarely kept records of sexual abuse complaints. If he did, they have disappeared.
Deluged with complaints
For example, Father Fred Bistricki was pastor of Holy Assumption parish on Milwaukee�s south side when a deluge of reports of his abusive behavior made their way to archdiocesan officials in the early 1970�s.
One report came from the new associate pastor at Father Bistricki�s West Allis parish, another from the principal of its grade school. In 1974, fourteen parents confronted the priest at his residence about his sexual misconduct with youngsters. A letter by one parishioner reveals repeated efforts to warn Archbishop Cousins and Father William Fleiss, the archdiocese�s chancellor.
Father Bistricki was finally removed from public ministry in 2002 for sexually abusing youngsters. Testimony in Milwaukee in October of that year revealed that the priest had admitted to treatment specialists in the early 1990�s that he fantasized about sexual contact with minors. One parent whose sons were abused by Father Bistricki informed Bishop Sklba in 1997 about the priest, but the bishop made no record of the meeting and the archdiocese left Father Bistricki in ministry.
Today Father Bistricki lives alone in a West Side Milwaukee home willed to him by a parishioner. Retired Milwaukee Judge Francis Fiorenza ruled in June 2003 that abuse reports against the priest were credible and the priest was formally suspended from practicing public ministry.
Father Bistricki is contesting his suspension to Rome, a process that could take several years. His current �supervision� consists of a once a month meeting with an archdiocesan representative.
Promoted to bishop
Father Fleiss was eventually promoted to bishop of the Superior Diocese where he has been under fire for transferring sex offender priests across northern Wisconsin parishes.
One priest under Bishop Fleiss� authority was convicted of sexual assault of a child and designated by the state in 1999 as a �dangerous sexual predator.� After the bishop intervened with the judge handling the case, the priest was allowed to serve his probation in a church retreat house outside of St. Louis. The priest is the only convicted sex offender in state history allowed to leave Wisconsin for his probation.
The priest was arrested in the Fall of 2003 after he attempted to block access to his private room by Wisconsin correction authorities checking on his progress. When they entered the priest�s room, officials discovered child pornography downloaded on the priest�s private computer.
The secret of St. John de Nepomuc
Another archdiocesan employee under the authority of Archbishop Cousins was Gary Kazmarek. Kazmarek was discovered by church officials to be sexually assaulting scores of children at St. John de Nepomuc parish and grade school on the west side of Milwaukee.
The parish was named after the 14th century Bulgarian saint who was martyred by King Wenceslas. The king�s wife had gone to the saint for confession and the king ordered the priest to divulge its contents. The saint refused and was drowned.
In the span of a few short years, children at St. John de Nepomuc would have to contend with no less than three serial child sex offenders from the archdiocese: Gary Kazmarek, Father Seigfried Widera and Father Franklin Becker.
Kazmarek taught in various Catholic schools in Milwaukee until reports of his sexually assaulting children at St. John�s became so numerous that the archdiocese had little choice but to intervene. Milwaukee church officials quietly assisted his move out of the state.
A popular coach, Kazmarek had sexually abused, raped and sodomized countless children at his home near the parish.
Church officials called on Anthony Kutchen, a psychologist whose son attended the St. John�s grade school, to meet with at least two dozen children victimized by the teacher.
�Dr. Kutchen met with us for a few minutes and told us it wasn�t our fault and that was about it,� recalls one victim who was a sixth grader at the time. As for the teacher, �He just disappeared and it was never brought up again.�
No report was filed with the police.
The victim recalls, however, that the nun who taught his class approached him one afternoon soon after the teacher�s disappearance. �If the new pastor had been here when these things were going on,� she lamented, �this never would have happened.�
The new pastor was Father Sigfried Widera, one of the most prolific sex offender priests in the archdiocese.
Transferred in the late 1970�s to a diocese in California, Father Widera was replaced by Father Franklin Becker, yet another serial child sex offender.
Kazmarek took a new teaching assignment in a Catholic school in a Louisville, Kentucky. There he was again discovered by church authorities to be sexually assaulting children. As in Milwaukee, church authorities helped Kazmarek leave the state without notifying authorities.
Kazmarek returned to Wisconsin to teach in Madison area schools where he continued to assault children. He was arrested and convicted of child sexual assault in Wisconsin in the 1980�s.
The former teacher was extradited to Kentucky in 2003 when charges were brought against him for his assaults in Louisville. He was convicted in January 2004 of multiple counts of sexually assaulting children and sentenced to thirteen years in prison.
The Diocese of Louisville has settled seven claims with victims of the former teacher.
Dr. Kutchin was named by Archbishop Weakland in February 2002 to a lay commission to review the archdiocese�s handling of sexual abuse cases and make recommendations, if necessary.
In June 2002, he was appointed to chair the commission.
While the extent of the problem under Archbishop Cousins will probably never be known, documents and testimony reveal that an alarming number of complaints against clergy would flood Archbishop Weakland�s office through much of his tenure.
As the elected leader of the worldwide order of Benedictine monks, the archbishop already had managerial experience dealing with sexually abusive clergy before arriving in Milwaukee. He also had what he calls an �intellectual� curiosity about pedophilia since at least his college years and appears to have been a somewhat avid reader on the subject.
One abusive priest that would require the new archbishop�s immediate attention was Father Sigfreid Widera, who was assigned to St. John�s soon after Gary Kazmarek�s departure.
After leaving St. John de Nepomuc, Father Widera was transferred to a West Allis parish where he is known to have sexually abused dozens of children. Another re-assignment quickly followed, this time to a Port Washington parish. It was there, soon after the West Allis transfer in 1972, that he befriended an 11 year-old student from the church�s grade school.
Father Widera would hug the child and force his fingers into her genital area. When the child would protest that it was wrong, Father Widera assured her it was not �because he was a priest.� On several occasions, Father Widera instructed the child to touch his penis. When the child began avoiding the priest, he had the student�s teacher bring her to the rectory for �special assignments.� He would order the child to perform oral sex on him.
�I was scared and crying but he told me God wanted me to do this for him,� according to the youngster.
Eventually the victim told the priest that she was having her period. He �thanked me and told me never to tell anyone and that it must always be between God and us.�
The next year Father Widera was convicted of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy in his car while on a trip with two other minors. He was sentenced to three-years probation.
Father Widera was ordered by the court to �have no contacts either professionally or socially (with minors) in Ozaukee County,� where the Port Washington parish was located.
In June of 1976, a full year before his probation was scheduled to end, Father Widera was assigned to the associate pastor position of St. Andrew�s parish in Delavan, Wisconsin.
Reassigned to California
In January of 1977, Widera was reassigned to a diocese in California.
Although Father Widera was working in California, Archbishop Weakland was required by Canon law to complete the transfer of ecclesiastical control over him to the Orange County Diocese. He did so in 1981. California church records show Father Widera was �removed� from public ministry in 1985.
In March of 2003, Father Widera leapt to his death from a hotel roof in Mexico.
Mexican authorities, working with U.S. federal marshals, were on the verge of capturing the priest to bring him back to Wisconsin, where a 2002 police investigation had uncovered dozens of victims, to face multiple counts of sexual assault.
Because Father Widera had left the state before the statute of limitations had expired on his crimes, the sexual assaults were still prosecutable under Wisconsin law.
Two brothers, two states
Since at least 1973, Father Widera had traveled to California with children from Wisconsin parishes. During one such trip in 1976, he sexually assaulted a West Allis youngster. The victim subsequently discovered that Father Widera was sexually abusing his younger brother as well.
In 2003, the California legislature eliminated the civil statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. To address the problem of past victims, the lawmakers unanimously passed a law opening a one-year window to bring civil claims. The victim from West Allis who Father Widera took to California in 1976 filed a civil claim in California against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for transferring the priest. Because the victim�s brother�s abuse by the priest occurred in Wisconsin, he has no such legal recourse.
At least seven victims of Father Widera filed lawsuits in California in 2003 against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for sending him unreported to that state.
Another California connection
Another Milwaukee priest who assaulted youngsters at St John de Nepomuc was Father Franklin Becker. The priest, it turns out, also made his way to California where he assaulted children.
Father Becker, who currently lives in Mayville, was arrested in 2003 for sexually abusing a 13 year-old while in California working at St. Brigid Catholic Church in Pacific Beach in the 1970�s. The criminal complaint includes two counts of oral copulation and two counts of child molestation.
Father Becker was asked at the time to leave St. Brigid�s by the pastor. He returned to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee where he continued to sexually abuse minors.
After he returned from California, one of Father Becker�s Wisconsin victims was an altar boy at St. Joseph�s Parish in Lyons where the priest befriended the youngster. The priest was transferred from Lyons to a Milwaukee parish but he continued to write the youngster, sending money and gifts. He would have the youth stay overnight with him in the rectory of the new parish.
One evening the priest offered the boy alcohol. Then he �showed albums of pictures of several other boys he was �friends� with just like me.� The pictures were of youngsters �all partially clothed� and he took pictures of the youth as well. The priest instructed the boy to sleep with him and, in the middle of the night, he climbed on top of the youngster and performed oral sex.
The next day, Father Becker had the youngster serve as altar boy for his morning mass.
Ordained in 1964, Father Becker served as curate at Holy Assumption in West Allis, and numerous parishes in Milwaukee, including his assignment at St. John de Nepomuc. On October 1, 1991 he was classified as �waiting for assignment� by the archdiocese due to abuse allegations but he continued to function as a priest in various parishes. In July 2002 he was formally removed from performing ministry.
Pedophile lend-lease program
The civil claims in California against the Milwaukee Archdiocese won a unanimous court of appeals decision in the Fourth District Court in October of 2003. In January 2004 the California Supreme Court declined to hear the church�s appeal and the cases are moving forward.
The appeals court upheld the decision that the Orange County transfer in 1981 by Archbishop Weakland �amounted to intentional conduct expressly aimed at or targeting California,� and that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee �knew that the decision would cause harm in the state.�
Writing for the court, Justice Richard D. Fybel concluded that:
The evidence supports the conclusion the Milwaukee Archdiocese intentionally sent Widera to California to get him out of Wisconsin where he had been convicted of sexual perversion against a boy and could create further problems for the Milwaukee Archdiocese. As the trial court concluded, the evidence is certainly sufficient to show that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee chose to place this troublesome member of its clergy here in California as a sort of lend-lease program with the hope that he would be out of their sight and out of their jurisdiction. By sending a known pedophile into California, the Milwaukee Archdiocese aimed its intentional conduct directly at the state.
The California court concluded: �Having sent Widera into California knowing he was a convicted child abuser and a pedophile, the Milwaukee Archdiocese reasonably could expect to be hauled into court in California to answer for the consequences of its actions.�
The Father Widera transfer provides an early window into how Archbishop Weakland would handle the scores of sex offender clerics that would come to his attention over the next twenty-five years. The archbishop�s management of abusive priests, victims and public concern, even during times of intense scrutiny and pressure, would remain remarkably consistent.
In 1978, a 17 year-old student attending Pius X High School in Milwaukee wrote to Archbishop Weakland that he had been sexually abused four years earlier by Father Richard Nichols in the sacristy of his church after serving mass. Archbishop Weakland wrote back, �One must have compassion for sinners� and suggested that the victim �grow spiritually from the experience.�
No report was made to the police concerning Father Nichols� assault although it was still prosecutable under the criminal statute at the time of the report to Weakland.
Father Nichols� first assignment was at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish and parochial school in the early 1960�s. One child from the grade school was in first grade when the priest approached him in the school hallway. The victim, now a police officer, said that on at �least a dozen occasions� he was cornered by the priest who would wait for the hallways to empty and �then slip his hand down the front of my pants and fondle my penis.� The victim�s family moved from the neighborhood the next year.
Father Nichols went on to develop a thriving practice in child psychology that in large part was due to a reliable stream of church related referrals.
The priest continued his combined parish ministry and counseling work until six years after the 1978 letter to the archbishop from the Pius High School boy when he surrendered his state license to practice psychology for performing oral sex on a male adolescent he was treating.
No criminal charges were filed.
Licensed by the state
There were other sex offender priests in the Milwaukee archdiocese who were both ordained Catholic ministers and state licensed practitioners or working in state licensed facilities or programs.
Like Father Nichols, they were known by the archbishop to have a history of sexually assaulting youngsters.
For instance, Father James Arimond was pastor of St. Fredrick Catholic Church when he was arrested for sexual assault of a minor in 1989. The popular priest was well known among the parish youth. An avid bicyclist, he had led four youngsters on a 4,450 mile cross-country trip in 1983.
Father Arimond received a master�s degree in counseling from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and worked as a consultant in the Milwaukee Public Schools.
The priest was convicted in 1990. He left the priesthood sometime in the 1990�s but obtained a license from the State of Wisconsin as a counselor. He was working in a Racine County clinic when a Milwaukee Journal story about the priest appeared in April, 2002. The state launched an investigation into his credentials, since such a conviction normally bars an applicant from obtaining a license.
Father Donald Buzinowski was a priest from the diocese of Green Bay in 1990 when, in the 1990�s, Bishop Robert Banks permitted his transfer to Milwaukee after a 12 year old boy, accompanied by his mother, told diocesan officials that the priest had sexually abused him on several occasions.
Bishop Banks had just been appointed the new Green Bay Bishop after serving as Cardinal Law�s chief deputy in Boston. Under Law, according to a 2003 Massachusetts Grand Jury report, Bishop Banks was directly responsible for the transfer of known priest sex offenders, including the infamous priest pedophile, John Goeagan. Bishop Banks also enlisted the help of Father John Shannley, another priest at the center of the Boston sexual abuse scandal, to help �mediate� a case in 1987 with a victim seeking help from the archdiocese.
According to the grand jury, Bishop Banks deliberately kept key information from authorities in criminal investigations.
Just before leaving the Boston Archdiocese, Bishop Banks testified before a Suffox County judge on behalf of a priest convicted of sexually abusing a minor. Although the priest had a lengthy history of abusing children recorded in archdiocesan files, Bishop Banks allowed the judge to believe it was the priest�s first offense. The priest received probation.
Priest will sue
Father Buzinowski was ordained in 1968 and served in six Green Bay parishes, as well as churches in Dykesville and Sturgeon Bay.
The police investigated the 1990 complaint and the Brown County prosecutor believed the boy but �it was going to be the boy�s word against a priest.� No charges were filed.
Diocesan officials offered counseling to the child and promised the parents that Father Buzinowski would be restricted in his work with children but also warned that if the story became public �the priest will sue.�
Father Buzinowski moved to Milwaukee and took up residence at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Wauwatosa. No longer practicing as a priest, he began a decade-long career working with youth in the Milwaukee County until he plead guilty in 2002 to possession of child pornography. While on an Internet chat room, he told an undercover FBI agent he likes having sex with 14 year-olds and attempted to arrange a meeting for sex.
In 1995, Buzinowski applied for a job as a director of religious education for a Milwaukee Parish. A call from the parish to the Green Bay diocese led the Milwaukee Archdiocese to send an email warning priests and deacons of Buzinowski�s history. The archdiocese, however, notified no authorities about the priest�s past.
In August 2002, the Milwaukee Journal obtained a letter written by Buzinowski in which he admits to abusing at least fourteen boys while a priest in Green Bay.
Notorious cases kept quiet
The vast majority of assaults, however, never came to the attention of authorities outside the church. Typical among these �quiet� cases was Father George Nuedling of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Twin Lakes.
Father Nuedling was one of the archdiocese�s most visible clerics and a legendary fundraiser. When Father Nuedling arrived in June 1968 to pastor St. John�s, he endeared himself quickly to the small, resort town community just north of the Illinois border.
But during a visit to the parish in June 2002 by Project Benjamin Director Dr. Barbara Reinke, Dr. Reinke acknowledged that Father Nuedling was in fact a �notorious pedophile.� Father Nuedling�s abuses predated his arrival in Twin Lakes. While associate pastor of St. Rita�s in West Allis he is known to have sexually abused several young boys.
During the Spring of 2002, numerous victims contacted the archdiocese to report abuses by Father Nuedling during the 1960�s, 1970�s and 1980�s.
His total number of victims is difficult to estimate, but at least 50 have made contact with either the archdiocese or victims� organizations.
Legacy of abuse
Father Nuedling lived alone in the parish rectory and would rape, sodomize and otherwise sexually abuse youngsters there, the sacristy and in his car--even in the church parking lot. He could also be physically threatening and abusive.
One victim was invited to the rectory by the priest to watch a baseball game. When he came back from using the bathroom in the priest�s bedroom, Father Nuedling tackled the boy, threw him on the bed, and �began grabbing my crotch. I could not get him to stop,� recalled the victim in recent testimony. �He was grabbing me so hard and it hurt and I began yelling.� The father of the victim was Father Neudling�s friend and golf partner. �I couldn�t tell anyone,� according to the victim.
Another victim from the parish grade school recalls how the priest would assault several youngsters at once. �He would hold so-called �parties� for his �favorite� seventh and eighth graders. He would give us beer and alcohol. He would take some of us, one at a time, to the bathroom. That�s where he took me the first time and told me to take out my penis.� The priest performed oral sex on the boy.
On subsequent occasions, Father Neudling would bring the boy to the rectory and sodomize him. �He would try to give me money,� according to the victim, �so I would keep coming back.�
The priest would sometimes grab a boy�s genitals and buttocks in church.
�After mass,� according to one victim, �he would tell my parents he wanted me to come over and help him and he would give me a ride home. He would sit in a chair, pull his pants down, and start playing with his penis. He would make me grab it and play with it. He would undo my pants and stick his finger up my rectum and asked me how it felt.�
The priest would frequently order the child to perform oral sex. If the child refused, �He would punish me, hitting me and forcing me to bend over and he would pull down my pants.� The priest would sodomize the child. Sometimes the boy would cry. Father Nuedling, who could be intoxicated, would yell at the child to �shut up.� �Then I would do what he told me,� recalls the victim.
Another victim testified that Father Nuedling seemed to be aroused by physical violence. �I was a wild kid�strong�and I would hit him. He would call me back to the rectory and let me do it. Later, as an adult, I realized that this was sexually arousing to him.�
One victim testified that he was 14 years old in 1980 when Father Nuedling hired him as the church groundskeeper. One afternoon the priest asked the boy to step into the sacristy and get him a cup of water. �Before I knew it he was putting his arm around me and pulling down my pants and stroking my penis. His other hand moved down my buttocks and he inserted his finger into my rectum.�
The deacon of the church, Tony Martino, however, walked into the room. The priest quickly exited. The deacon told the victim the next day that he had confronted the priest and �it would never happen again.� Father Nuedling, on next seeing the victim, warned the youngster �not to tell anyone and that no one would believe me.�
A former church member interviewed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says she witnessed Nuedling molest a boy once on church grounds. Another youth, she said, had to pull the priest off the boy.
According to the witness, "When I saw this happen with the one boy, we got out to the street and the boy turned to me and said, 'Don't you ever tell anybody what just happened. They won't believe you anyway.' "
In 1986, Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba confronted Father Nuedling with a complaint lodged against him by one of the victims. According to a chronology provided by the archdiocese, Nuedling admitted the charge was true. The priest and Bishop Sklba agreed that he would have no unsupervised contact with minors. He was nonetheless left alone and unsupervised in the rectory.
No one in the parish or community was informed of the abuse report and Father Nuedling remained in his pastoral position in Twin Lakes.
In 1993, after another complaint surfaced with the archdiocese, Father Nuedling was asked to enter into retirement. He continued to conduct ministry in the archdiocese, however, and died of a heart attack while playing golf in 1994.
Grateful parishioners named the church�s community center after him in his honor and memory. He was buried in the church cemetery in Randall Township.
Many Twin Lakes residents still find it difficult to believe that their beloved pastor of 25 years was a serial child sex offender. The community center, however, has been renamed.
Archbishop �cavalierly insensitive�
It was an �open secret� that Fr. Dennis Pecore, a priest with the Society of the Divine Savior religious order who was assigned to Milwaukee�s Mother of Good Council parish and grade school, was sexually abusing boys at the parish and the school.
In July of 1984, a teacher who was alarmed by the priest�s behavior of routinely taking boys to his bedroom wrote to Archbishop Weakland urging action before �it goes public.� Archbishop Weakland wrote back, �Any libelous material found in your letter will be scrutinized carefully by our lawyers.�
Frustrated, the teacher and two others continued to write the archdiocese, warning of the danger Pecore posed to children. All three were fired.
In a lawsuit filed against the archdiocese, the teachers claimed they lost their jobs for trying to warn Archbishop Weakland about the priest. According to the teachers, Archbishop Weakland never took action and �conspired to silence this situation and terminate� the whistleblowers.
Archbishop Weakland�s behavior towards the teachers drew an unusual rebuke from the Wisconsin Court of Appeals in 1988:
Archbishop Weakland, in the letter responding to claims, was cavalierly insensitive to what the record discloses were legitimate and responsible actions on the part of the appellants concerning the sexual misconduct of Father Pecore.
Three years later, in 1987, Father Pecore was arrested and convicted of child sexual assault and sentenced to a year in jail. In November of 1987, the Milwaukee Archdiocese, the religious order and Father Pecore reached a $650,000 settlement with one victim.
Archbishop Weakland insisted that the agreement be kept secret against the �strong objections� of the victim and his family.
The archdiocese would later claim that such agreements were �requested by the victim� but this appears to have rarely, if ever, been the case.
According to the victim: �If the archdiocese wanted to protect me, why did they put me through all the terrible hassles that they did? I wanted to tell my story to everyone. I wanted to get this out. I felt bad for the teachers that lost their jobs and the principal of the school who had to leave. I wanted this out in the open.�
The victim continues to suffer from the consequences of the abuse and remains in treatment to this day. But as bad as the sexual abuse was, according to the victim in a 2002 CNN interview, the worse injury was caused by the actions of Archbishop Weakland and the archdiocese: �That�s what really hurts�more than the abuse itself.�
Father Pecore remained a priest after his conviction. He also continued to sexually abuse children. The archdiocese was once again warned about his continued pattern of behavior. A concerned parishioner repeatedly advised Bishop Sklba that Father Pecore was violating the terms of his probation. He also advised Sklba that Pecore had been accused of sexual abuse of children in Phoenix before his transfer to Milwaukee. Sklba wrote the parishioner on December 21, 1989 and indicated that, �I have no evidence� that Pecore has violated the terms of his probation. The evidence upon which Bishop Sklba relied in concluding that Pecore was not violating the terms of his parole is remarkable:
[T]his matter has been directly discussed with Father Pecore himself who categorically affirmed his compliance with all terms of his parole.The allegations of the concerned parishioner and others regarding Pecore�s continued conduct had more validity than the affirmation of the already once-convicted pedophile. Pecore was in fact sexually abusing his eight-year-old nephew at the time. That abuse continued for three years despite the best efforts of individuals to convince the archdiocese to act.
When the child�s parents learned of the abuse and filed suit, the archdiocese claimed that the child�s mother�the priest�s sister�was at fault because of her alleged knowledge of the priest�s history of abusing children.
The child�s parents agreed to a nominal settlement on his behalf in exchange for the archdiocese withdrawing its claims against the mother.
Father Pecore was sentenced to twelve years in prison for the abuse and was released in 2003. His nephew now lives alone in Florida, shunned by his family and abandoned by his church.
Victims �not so innocent�
The archbishop, however, did not see the problem of sexually abusive priests in the same way as the court of appeals, Father Pecore�s victims, the victims� parents, the school principal or teachers.
In a 1988 column for the Catholic Herald, Archbishop Weakland wrote that not all adolescent victims of sexual assault were �so innocent.�
�Some� wrote the archbishop, �can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite street-wise.�
Praised nationally for his tolerance of dissent on other issues, the archbishop flatly refused repeated requests for meetings with clergy abuse victims, especially victims� organizations and representatives. Indeed, he rarely, if ever, talked with victims and their families, passing on that difficult pastoral assignment to legal and lay advisors.
When asked about his refusal to meet with victims in a 1994 Milwaukee Journal interview, Archbishop Weakland replied that he �didn�t find that kind of thing helpful.�
And there was Project Benjamin.
Soon after his 1988 column questioning the innocence of some victims sexually assaulted by clergy, public criticism led Archbishop Weakland to establish the outreach project.
Project Benjamin was touted as �cutting-edge� by the archbishop -- a national model to be used to heal sexual abuse victims of clergy, help offenders and provide education and outreach to parishes.
The name was chosen, according to program materials, because �the biblical story of Benjamin refers both to a victim of sexual abuse and the perpetrator of abuse.�
This reflected the archbishop�s desire for the church to direct the response of �everyone involved� in these �incidents,� including the perpetrator, who could be, presumably, a victim himself of the �not so innocent.�
The Project Benjamin philosophy implied a moral equivalence between victim and perpetrator. The church, which was aligned to �neither side,� was in the best position to determine what steps needed to be taken �in the interest of all involved.� The church would investigate the claims by victims, treat the victim and perpetrator alike, and in the unfortunate event the �abuse would be made public,� provide services to the affected parish.
In the Spring of 2002, after fourteen years in operation and contact with hundreds of victims and dozens of clergy sex offenders, Project Benjamin officials made their first report of child sexual abuse by a priest to law enforcement.
�We report to authorities,� Bishop Richard Sklba told Sunday parishioners at St. Peter and Paul Parish on Milwaukee�s East Side. �In fact, we just sent a report to the district attorney.�
The bishop failed to mention that the victim in the case had just informed the archdiocese, after months of delay by the Project Benjamin director, that he had reported the priest to the Milwaukee district attorney already.
It was then the abusive priest�s file was sent to civil authorities.
Years of Criticism
It is not too surprising, therefore, that like many Church �outreach� programs around the country, Project Benjamin and its officials have received sustained criticism from victims and victim advocates since its inception.
Over a dozen grand jury investigations launched around the country since 2001 to investigate the church�s handling of clerical sexual abuse are finding patterns similar to those in Milwaukee.
While claiming to aid victims, church run programs, according to these reports, have most often been used as a �front� by lawyers and bishops to �wait out� victims past the criminal and civil statutes. Outreach programs also appear to have been routinely used to manage and manipulate treatment costs and blunt public criticism of church policies and practices.
Under public pressure in the Spring of 2002 for transferring known sex offender clergy, Archbishop Weakland created a lay panel to assess the status of clergy in the ministry with a history of committing sexual abuse. He also asked the panel to review the archdiocesan response to victims.
The group interviewed no victim, family member or clinician working with victims. It�s chair, Dr. Anthony Kutchin�who earlier had handled the Gary Kazmarek matter for the church--concluded in the Fall of 2003, contrary to victim testimony, that the response of the archdiocese to victims was �excellent.� When pressed by reporters as to how he reached his conclusions, the long time archdiocesan consultant conceded that it was based on reading a half a dozen or so church files; no victim or family member was interviewed and no evaluation tool was used.
In the late Fall of 2003 Archbishop Timothy Dolan initiated yet another review of Project Benjamin, this time by the project�s board.
Testimony by victims and family members at two October 2002 listening sessions, and before Madison lawmakers in September of 2003, revealed repeated complaints against Project Benjamin, its two directors and Bishop Richard Sklba, who supervised the operation of the program.
Particularly exasperating, according to witnesses, are public guarantees by the archdiocese to cover mental health treatment which are then followed by clinical interference from Project Benjamin staff. Treatment on numerous occasions was terminated by the archdiocese against the strong warning of victims� clinicians and doctors.
Also common was the routine breach of client confidentiality. Information disclosed by victims regularly found its way to archdiocesan lawyers and officials.
Pastoral vs. legal priorities
Part of the dilemma for the church undoubtedly derives from it�s legal actions which pit pastoral care against corporate liability and public exposure.
Illuminating in this regard are the recent remarks to the New York Times by David Scarmardo, chief legal counsel for the diocese of Houston until last year.
In a lengthy interview, Mr. Scarmado told the Times he was instructed by the Houston bishop to vigorously resist accusers, fend off lawsuits and work with church officials to send victims away quietly, with as little compensation as possible.
Mr. Scarmardo, a former seminarian, is himself a victim of sexual abuse by a priest. He left his post with the Houston diocese this year after struggling with what he calls the �utter impossibility� of continuing to abet the legal strategy of the church.
Most victims' cases in Houston, according to Mr. Scarmardo, were beyond the statute of limitations. Little was offered to settle cases. Often it was just the cost of a short course of therapy. If that failed, he said, church lawyers would petition to have cases dismissed on first amendment grounds, arguing that the government must not interfere in church affairs.
The settlement agreements always contained confidentiality clauses. Like other diocesan lawyers, Mr. Scarmardo often included penalty clauses in the event a victim breached the confidentiality stipulation.
According to Mr. Scarmardo:
The standard approach was to offer to pay only for the victim�s counseling, and even this came with strings attached. The diocese kept a list of preferred therapists and limited the number of sessions it would pay for. A year of counseling was considered generous.
Mr. Scarmardo told the Times he found this practice wrong. It had taken him three years of counseling before he began to even talk about his own sexual abuse.
Pastoral tone, policy sham
A blistering February, 2003 grand jury report from Long Island draws similar conclusions.
The report documents the rape and other sexual abuse of children and youngsters from the diocese of Rockville Centre in churches, rectories, on camping trips and in homes. It details how the diocese received allegations of child sexual abuse and did not report them to police and documents the routine practice of transferring accused priests to other parishes.
As for the diocesan response to victims, the grand jury concluded that:
The response of priests in the diocesan hierarchy to allegations of criminal sexual abuse was not pastoral. In fact, although there was a written policy that set a pastoral tone, it was a sham. The diocese failed to follow the policy from its inception, even at the most rudimentary level.
The diocese had adopted a �carefully orchestrated plan� by its �victim�s
intervention team� to �appear to be providing pastoral
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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