Pastor in Abuse Case Decides to Retire
Review Board Concludes Allegations Unsubstantiated

By Tom Heinen
Journal Sentinel Online
September 13, 2004

The pastor of a Port Washington Catholic church who was investigated on allegations of sexual abuse has retired and agreed not to return to any parish ministry even though an archdiocesan board concluded that the accusations are not substantiated.

The decision of Father Joseph Haas, 71, and the conclusion of the Diocesan Review Board were announced to staff members and parishioners at St. Peter of Alcantara Church last weekend.

However, neither a letter from Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan that was read at all of the parish's weekend Masses, nor an interview Monday with the board's leader, former Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow, shed much light on the paradoxical results or the reasons behind them.

After noting the board's conclusion, Dolan's letter says, "However, as a result of the turmoil that has risen in this situation and of concern expressed by the Review Board, Father Haas has decided to retire and not to return to parochial ministry. This is also the recommendation of the Review Board.

"This has been a troubling few months for the individuals who made the reports, for you, for Father Haas and for me, but I am glad we have been thorough in our process and have reached a conclusion in this investigation. I want to thank all involved for their patient cooperation."

Farrow spoke generally of the seriousness of the board members, the difficulty of reaching conclusions, and the board's ability to ask for more information when needed. She said board members feel an obligation to give Dolan a direct conclusion and advice, but she would not discuss any specifics of Haas' case.

Haas, who has been on leave since February, could not be reached for comment.

It was unclear Monday what type of non-parish ministry Haas could engage in. Archdiocesan spokeswoman Kathleen Hohl said that the archdiocese was not initiating efforts to have him laicized.

The archdiocese did not identify the complainants, but Heather Smith, 34, who made the main allegation against Haas, said Monday, "I'm glad that he will not be in ministry any more. . . . I'm very disappointed and very confused because I'm getting mixed messages from the archdiocese and it doesn't seem like there is any truth or any accountability."

Smith said an archdiocesan employee called her Saturday about Haas' retirement.

Hohl said the standard procedure is for the personal contact to be followed by a letter.

Peter Isely, a regional representative for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Monday, "This makes no sense to me. Again, we're back at what are the criteria for substantiation. If they can't answer . . . then we have a process in complete disarray."

Hohl said the archdiocese has long publicized that it uses a standard of "preponderance of evidence" to substantiate reports, which is different from whether an allegation has enough credibility to warrant an investigation.

Smith, who now lives in Iowa, told the Journal Sentinel that she was abused in the winter of 1977-'78 while a second-grade student at Holy Rosary School in Milwaukee.

Another, unidentified person had made a less serious complaint involving alleged "inappropriate behavior" by Haas in 2000.

The archdiocese turned over both of those complaints to the Milwaukee County district attorney's office, which determined that Smith's allegations were too old to consider prosecuting and did not file charges in the other complaint. A former police detective hired by the archdiocese investigated the allegations and made a report to the board.


"I am glad we have been thorough in our process and have reached a conclusion in this investigation."

- Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan.

"I'm very disappointed and very confused because I'm getting mixed messages from the archdiocese."

- Heather Smith, who made allegation.


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