Abusive Priest Evades Justice
He Admits Molesting Boys, but Prosecution Is Unlikely

By Marie Rohde and Steve Schultze
Journal Sentinel Online
March 22, 2003

Related Coverage: Letter (pdf): From Father Donald Buzanowski to a colleague; Letter: David Schauer school essay; Letter: David Schauer to Father Donald Buzanowski; Excerpt: From a mother's journal; Transcript: Q&A with Bishop Banks. [See also a timeline below of Buzanowski's career.]

By his own admission, Donald J. Buzanowski molested 14 boys over a 20-year period while working as a Catholic priest in Green Bay.

And for years, he kept it a secret.

Even after a close brush with the law in 1990 - when he was accused of abusing a 10-year-old boy - his past remained hidden. Even after Buzanowski launched a second career as a counselor for teens with drug and alcohol problems in the Milwaukee area, no one knew the extent of his abuse.

Justice Eluded: Father Don Buzanowski

It wasn't until last summer - as Buzanowski neared the end of his 21-month sentence on a child pornography conviction - that the truth came out. The pastor of an east side protestant church, where Buzanowski had been helping out, wrote to ask if he had a history of sexual abuse of children.

"From my past, there is behaviors that might come out," Buzanowski wrote back. "I did molest 14 boys between the ages of 14-17. This happened over the years of 1969-1988."

Buzanowski's story provides an unusually vivid illustration of how one abusive priest, aided by his status as a priest and by breaks from civil and church authorities, repeatedly evaded detection over a period of many years. His case reflects a pattern that emerged after the priest abuse scandal burned like a brush fire through the Roman Catholic church in America last year.

Church officials, who say they didn't know the full extent of Buzanowski's abusive history, didn't discuss the abuse allegation of the 10-year-old boy with the principal or teachers at the school where it occurred, nor did they contact anyone at other congregations and schools that the priest had served.

Green Bay Bishop Robert Banks says the church followed its procedures to the letter and would not do anything differently today. "Everything that could be done was done," he said. "The Diocese of Green Bay handled the case very responsibly."

David Schauer of Marshfield says he was molested by Donald J. Buzanowski, a Roman Catholic priest, when he was 10 years old and going to a Catholic School in Green Bay.


Schauer is shown with his mother, Judith, in a 1988 Christmas photo. That was the year of the alleged abuse.

Banks, who didn't come to Green Bay until late 1990, said the diocese didn't try to keep tabs on Buzanowski after he was placed on leave in mid-1989, even though Buzanowski "sacramentally" remains a priest. Buzanowski was suspended in 1990 and was not supposed to wear a priest's garb or act as a priest.

Prosecutors declined to press the 1990 case against Buzanowski because they lacked evidence. But they found the boy's story convincing. Both Banks and prosecutors believe Buzanowski would be treated differently today by civil authorities.

Brown County and Green Bay law enforcement officials have launched a preliminary investigation into Buzanowski's August 2002 letter, hoping to get the names of abuse victims and learn whether church officials knew about the allegations. But because the acts Buzanowski acknowledges occurred years ago, prosecution is doubtful.

Buzanowski, 60, now on parole, has lived in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood for the past few months. He works part time transcribing case files for Wisconsin Correctional Service, a private social and court services agency. He declined to be interviewed.

Boy's journal was clue

The journal entries of the boy in the 1990 case, David Schauer - along with notes from his therapist; files from police, prosecutors and social workers; and interviews with more than 50 people involved in the case - provide an unusually clear look at the obstacles and heartache that often shadow abuse victims and their families.

Schauer was a cheery boy of 10 whose disposition changed abruptly in fall of 1988, said his mother, Judith Schauer.

"This boy, he lost his smile. There was no joy left in him," she said.

The alleged abuse of the boy came to light in early 1990 in a report by a therapist who had treated David Schauer. Police were told that Buzanowski had molested Schauer in 1988 during counseling sessions at St. Thomas More, a Catholic grade school in Green Bay.

The abuse still haunts David Schauer, now 25, a financial planning assistant, Air Force veteran and college student living with his wife in Marshfield.

"It just makes me feel so guilty and sick and that I came somewhat close and I wasn't able to do anything," David Schauer said. He has always worried that other kids may also have been abused by Buzanowski, he said.

Buzanowski met with David Schauer six times in October and November, sometimes pulling the boy from his fifth-grade class to meet in a private room on another floor of the school building, David Schauer said. It was there that Buzanowski molested him, he said.

A 1990 report by Brown County protective services said the boy had outbursts of anger, mood swings, was listless and got poor grades in school. Judith Schauer urged David to go back to see Father Don, something she now deeply regrets.

The problems continued, so the family went for counseling, and David began keeping a journal. When Judith saw a journal page dated Jan. 19, 1990, left open in David's room, the words hit her like a thunderbolt.

"Three years ago I would have gotten on the 'A' honor roll, but my life sank after getting treatment from this so-called person 'Father Don,' " David wrote. "I'm so mad at him I could spit, but Jesus would have forgiven him right away. . . . I'm so confused, I could cry."

Therapist informed authorities

That passage triggered a Jan. 30, 1990, letter by the family's therapist to Brown County Social Services, which reported it to Green Bay police on Feb. 16.

On Jan. 31, two Green Bay diocesan officials visited Buzanowski at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Wauwatosa, where he was living while on a one-year leave from his duties.

Buzanowski denied the abuse allegations in a conversation with Green Bay Auxiliary Bishop Robert F. Morneau and Father David Kiefer, then vicar of priests for the diocese, Brown County prosecutor John Zakowski said. Kiefer, however, says Buzanowski neither denied or admitted the truth of the allegations.

Veteran Green Bay Police Detective Jerry Rogalski didn't know Buzanowski already had been confronted by church officials when he visited Kiefer at the diocese on Feb. 21, 1990.

Kiefer told him "there was nothing there" and that church officials didn't believe the allegation, Rogalski said.

Rogalski set up an interview with Buzanowski, but the priest changed his mind about meeting with the officer after consulting an attorney. Kiefer said he referred the lawyer - Donald Zuidmulder, now a Brown County judge - to Buzanowski.

Rogalski believes that had he been able to interview Buzanowski without preparation by the diocese, he would have had a good chance of getting a confession. When he interviewed David Schauer on March 9, 1990, he found the boy's abuse allegations "100%" believable, he said.

William Griesbach, at the time an assistant Brown County prosecutor and now a federal judge, said he also believed Schauer. But no previous abuse complaints turned up in Buzanowski's personnel records, Griesbach said.

"It came down to the boy's word against the priest's," he said. "I just didn't think I had enough evidence." If such a case came up now, he would file charges, Griesbach said.

After the police investigation was finished, Father Kiefer agreed to provide financial help to pay for David's therapy. Kiefer also cautioned David's parents never to discuss the allegation against Buzanowski, saying the family could be sued for "defamation of character," Judith Schauer said.

While Kiefer now denies that he meant it as a warning, he said he may have suggested the Schauers could get sued for spreading the story. The Schauers remained silent.

The Green Bay Diocese suspended Buzanowski in 1990 after the abuse allegation and because he didn't report back to the diocese after his one-year leave expired at mid-year, Banks said. Church officials said they had wanted to place Buzanowski in a supervised setting.

Buzanowski resigned his ministry in May 1992 but has not been formally defrocked, Banks said.

Between his years as a priest and his time in prison, Buzanowski had a second career in Milwaukee as a counselor, which put him in close contact with vulnerable teenage boys.

Banks said neither federal authorities nor the employers who hired Buzanowski ever contacted the diocese to check the priest's background. But even if they had, Banks said it would have been inappropriate for the diocese to disclose the abuse allegation.

Steve Ingraham, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Buzanowski's child pornography case in 2000, said he didn't contact church officials because he thought it would be a "futile" effort to try to get personnel information from them. In a strikingly similar case, an Illinois priest was sentenced in January to 20 years in prison, in part because he admitted molesting numerous boys long ago.

In Milwaukee, Buzanowski made new friends, gained a leadership role in a gay men's social group and held a responsible job, all of which crumbled in 1998 when he was caught in an FBI sting.

Buzanowski told an agent posing as a teenager in an Internet chat room that "he likes persons who are 14 and claimed to have had sex with such persons," Ingraham said in court. Authorities then seized Buzanowski's computer and found child pornography on it, and the ex-priest pleaded guilty to the felony pornography charge.

In the two years after his arrest, Buzanowski joined an east side protestant congregation, assuming a leadership role and occasionally delivering a children's sermon, with youngsters gathered around him. He has not been involved with the church since his release from prison.

Federal court records and former employers said Buzanowski worked the first five months of 1990 for the Wisconsin Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence in Waukesha, where his duties included giving presentations on the AIDS virus to youth groups. From mid-1990 to 1998, he did drug and alcohol assessments of juveniles for the Milwaukee Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence.

Officials from Milwaukee agencies where Buzanowski worked said they couldn't recall any allegations of improper behavior.

When Buzanowski applied for a religious education job at a Milwaukee parish in April 1996, parish officials called Green Bay church officials. "We stated that under no circumstances should Buzanowski be in contact with children," Banks said. Nine months later, the Milwaukee Archdiocese issued a warning about Buzanowski in a newsletter sent to local Catholic clergy.

Judith and David Schauer today remain angry that Buzanowski later had jobs with access to children, something they said Kiefer promised would never happen. The handling of her son's abuse case left Judith Schauer disillusioned with both church leaders and the criminal justice system.

"We were convinced he was going to go to jail," she said. "I guess we were naive."


Donald J. Buzanowski timeline:

1968: Ordained a Catholic priest in Green Bay.

June 1968: St. Joseph Parish, Green Bay, associate pastor

June 1970-'74: St. John the Evangelist Parish, Green Bay, associate pastor

June 1974: St. Jude Parish, Green Bay, associate pastor

June 1975: St. Patrick Parish, Green Bay, co-pastor

Nov. 1975: St. Patrick, Green Bay, pastor

July 1982: St. Louis Parish, Dykesville, pastor

July 1983-'87: Corpus Christi, Sturgeon Bay, pastor

July 1987-'89: St. John the Evangelist Parish, Green Bay, pastor.

October-November 1988: David Schauer, 10, allegedly is abused by Buzanowski.

Jan. 1990: David Schauer, now 12, tells therapist he was abused by Buzanowski when he was 10.

Feb. 16, 1990: Brown County Social Services refers Schauer case to Green Bay police for investigation.

March 1, 1990: Buzanowski refuses to talk to police.

July 25, 1990: Bishop suspends Buzanowski for failing to return to Green Bay from his leave; asks him to return to a "controlled setting" in Green Bay. Buzanowski declines.

1990-1998: Buzanowski works for Milwaukee Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence; job includes drug and alcohol assessments of children in Milwaukee County Children's Court.

Dec. 19, 1991: Brown County district attorney decides not to prosecute Buzanowski.

April 1996: A Milwaukee parish where Buzanowski seeks job as director of religious education calls Green Bay Diocese for job reference.

Jan. 1997: Milwaukee Archdiocese warns priests and deacons about Buzanowski.

Sept. 2, 1998: While in an Internet chat room, Buzanowski tells an undercover FBI agent he likes having sex with 14-year-olds. FBI and Milwaukee police seize Buzanowski's computer and find pornographic images of children.

Sept. 1998-June 2000: Works for Wisconsin Correctional Services as a benefit specialist for clinic on Wisconsin Ave.

May 2, 2000: Pleads guilty to possession of child pornography.

Nov. 8, 2000: Sentenced to 21 months in federal prison; $100 fine and three years supervised release.

Spring/summer 2002: Writes pastor of Protestant church from prison about returning to Milwaukee; seeking help. Minister asks if there was other misconduct.

Aug. 4, 2002: Buzanowski admits he abused 14 boys while a priest in Green Bay.

Oct. 4, 2002: Released from prison.

Late Feb. 2003: Brown County district attorney asks the Green Bay police to investigate and interview Buzanowski.

David Schauer school essay

Following is a school essay written by David Schauer about his alleged abuse by Father Don Buzanowski:

Prompt: Forgiveness

Five years ago, when I was ten, I went to a Catholic School called St. Thomas More. I was constantly being teased by a certain boy. It drove me nuts. At the same time there was a priest who offered counseling for anyone who attended the school and had a problem that they wanted to be solved. I originally went there to help clear up the things that were going on between me the kid who was teasing me. After going to the priest a couple of sessions, he started fondling me. He sexually abused me. I went to professional counseling and almost recovered completely. I still don't think I'm perfectly well. I went to a social worker and told him my case. He said there wasn't evidence to convict him. It was my word against his. I think I might get more help someday because I don't think everything is out in open for me to know exactly what happened. I know some things for sure though. I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive him.

Letter from David Schauer

Folllowing is a letter written by David Schauer to Father Don Buzanowski:



Why did you sexually abuse me?

I hope you admit what you've done to me and others. I know that I'm the only one who's pressed charges on you, but if you don't admit it, I'm going to fight to get you where you belong, in prison.

Why do you do things to others that makes them mad and angry and have mixed feelings. You really do confuse people. I thought you were my friend but I guess you're not. I hope you're suffering and are very sorry for not only what you've done to me, but for what you've done to others. I hope you stop counseling in Milwaukee because I know you're not counseling.


To get over the abuse I don't think about it and I get on with my life. If I have to think about it, I say what needs to be said and then go about my life.

From a mother's journal

Following is an excerpt from a personal journal written by David Schauer's mother in 1990:


I said a prayer today, it is the same prayer I've prayed for 509 consecutive days.

Oh God watch over your son, whom you have interested to us, he is so lost.

God, you know the hurt in my son's life. And you already know hurts to come to him.

By and through Your word I pray that you will console my son in a very special way.

Wipe away his tears and bring the joy back into his life.

Oh David, where have you gone? What has happen? What have I not done?

Your father and I are in such pain as we watch your spirit empty. Your eyes are dull there is no dancing; there is no joy.

What happen to our carefree little boy, of 10? Truly heaven sent?

WHY WHY WHY, I have at least one hundred questions, but not one answer to what happened to change you so.

I watch you get up early to attain morning mass before school and I thank God that this helps you. But the ache deep within this mother's heart tells me there is something much more.

Lord Jesus, through the power of Your perfect and error-free word I call upon You to replace all discouragement in my son's life with joy, hope, and happiness. Teach him, teach us his family what Your word means when it says to wait on You, and to be of good courage and that You, God will strengthen us.

As I continue to pray for the return of my son's smile and dancing eyes.


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