Capuchins Dragging Feet on Sex Abuse Inquiry, Ex-Student Says

Milwaukee Journal
December 27, 1992

J. Peter Isely, one of eight men who said he was sexually abused by a friar while attending St. Lawrence Seminary high school in Fond du Lac County, charged Saturday that the Capuchins who operate the school were continuing to act irresponsibly.

"They haven't come clean yet," Isely said in an interview with The Journal. "They are continuing to minimize what happened." In a related development, participants in Project Samuel, an organization formed by those who say they survived sexual abuse at St. Lawrence, issued an open letter Saturday to all Capuchin priests and brothers.

The letter called upon members of the order to henceforth consider themselves among those who like medical doctors are by law required to report suspicions of sexual abuse of children to legal authorities.

"If you are reading this and you are a sex offender, we urge you to report your offense to the proper legal authorities and seek help from a licensed and accredited treatment facility," the letter read. "Your crimes are hurting children. Worse: Victims you have molested may now be molesting others."

In the interview, Isely said that Father Kenneth Reinhart, the order's regional leader, has acknowledged only what he has had to, and only because of published reports in The Journal.

Isely's reaction was to ongoing coverage by The Journal, beginning one week ago, of charges of sexual abuse at the preparatory seminary. The allegations were made by Isely and some other former students, who said the sexual contact by staff members took place in the 1970s. One former student, however, described an incident as recent as 1987.

The former students said that a number of their allegations were brought at the time to the attention of school officials, who ignored them.

Reinhart, provincial since 1987 of the Detroit-based Capuchin province that includes Wisconsin, said he became aware of the allegations in 1989. He did not return telephone calls Saturday seeking his response to Isely's statements.

On Monday, the day after the story broke, Fond du Lac County Dist. Atty Thomas Storm said he had probable cause to issue felony charges against one of the friars named in the allegations.

Although Storm would not identify the teacher, speculation has continued to focus on Brother Thomas Gardipee, who was removed from the school in the week before publication of the story, after he and others were interviewed by authorities.

Reinhart said Wednesday that the order was in the process of hiring a lawyer or a retired judge to conduct an internal investigation.

No official charges have been filed. Storm was unavailable on Saturday to give the status of the investigation.

Isely said the Capuchins had failed to say why they removed Father Gale Leifeld as principal of the school in 1982, several years after the child molestation accusations were made to Father Joseph Diermeier in 1979.

Isely noted that Leifeld later allowed to function fully as a Milwaukee-area priest working on weekends at St. Robert Catholic Church in Shorewood and during the week at the Sacred Heart School of Theology in Franklin. Leifeld was permitted to live alone, in unsupervised conditions, Isely said.

"I'm most concerned about the cover-up right now," Isely said. "They haven't acknowledged any involvement in the cover-up that occurred."

If the Capuchins are sincere about their regrets that this occurred, they should state publicly that any faculty member or friar should go to civil authorities with any information he has regarding sexual abuse of children, he said. That would mean rescinding the order's current policy requiring that Capuchin leadership be contacted, in order that they may decide whether legal authorities need to be brought in, Isely said.

Isely said the Capuchins should ask victims to help draft the letter that Reinhart said would be sent to alumni. That, he said, would restore some confidence that the Capuchins are sincere in their efforts to bring other victims forward, he said.

"Why are they investigating, looking for current cases of abuse?" Isely asked. "Why don't they just give their files to the police and the district attorney? Their previous attempts to investigate allegations have been horrible."

The open letter to the Capuchins said that Project Samuel had opened a confidential, 24-hour information and support line for survivors and those with information or concerns about sexual abuse. The number: (414) 256-1362.


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