Four Sue New Ulm Diocese, Say Late Priest Abused Them As Boys

By Lisa Grace
St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)
April 23, 1994

Years after the nightmares, the shame, the anger toward the Catholic Church, Bob Schwiderski finally has realized an outlet for his emotions: the courts.

Schwiderski and three other men filed civil lawsuits Friday against the diocese of New Ulm, alleging that Father William Joseph Marks sexually abused them when they were altar boys in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The suits seek unspecified damages in excess of $50,000. One suit says the diocese knew about Marks, who died in 1979, but failed to supervise him or warn the alleged victims' families.

New Ulm Bishop Raymond Lucker said Friday that he hadn't seen the lawsuits and wouldn't comment on the specific charges. But he vehemently denied that the diocese covered up Marks' alleged crimes.

"There is absolutely no indication that we knew of the abuse," Lucker said Friday. "We have offered counseling. We've told people to come forth."

Court documents, filed in connection with the lawsuit, do not identify the plaintiffs by name. But Schwiderski agreed to let the Pioneer Press identify him because he hopes other potential victims might come forward.

"I didn't want to destroy my life anymore or destroy my children's," Schwiderski said. "The best way was to tackle my problem. Let's get the crap out."

Marks was pastor at St. John's in Hector, a small town about 80 miles west of the Twin Cities, from 1954 to 1962, around the same time the town's Catholic population was growing, Schwiderski said. He made his first communion in 1956 and became an altar boy shortly thereafter.

Schwiderski said Marks kissed him and fondled him after Mass several times. Marks also fondled a relative, Schwiderski said, and the boy told his parents about it. The parents talked to the trustees at St. John's, and Marks was sent to St. Clotilde in Green Valley in 1962.

One of the other plaintiffs says Marks molested him at that church until 1965, according to that man's lawsuit. St. Clotilde was Marks' last parish. His career spanned nine parishes until he died at age 71.

Marks was a conservative priest, Lucker said, resistant to the modernization of the Catholic Church after Vatican II in the mid-1960s. He rarely ventured outside the parish for clergy conferences, preferring to stay and tend his elaborate rose garden. His canned jellies and vegetables won blue ribbons at the county fair, Lucker said.

In fact, when Lucker told the members of St. Clotilde and St. John last year that their former priest had been accused of molesting altar boys, several parishioners didn't believe the charges, Lucker said.

"They were angry that someone in their parish was bringing this accusation," Lucker said. "There was shock."

Schwiderski said his parents asked if Marks had abused him after they found out about the alleged abuse of his relative. He said no at the time.

"I come from a very strong Catholic family," Schwiderski said, explaining his denial. "I didn't say anything for fear that would be destroyed."

He graduated from Hector High School in 1966, spent 2 1/2 years in the U.S. Army and attended the University of Minnesota before becoming a community development director.

Schwiderski said he never told his wife about the abuse before they divorced in 1990. And he insisted his three children go to Catholic schools.

"But when Sunday would roll around ... I'd hyperventilate, I'd sweat," he said. He would make snide remarks about his children's church activities.

Four years ago, Schwiderski said, he quit his job as director of the Koochiching Development Authority because he was losing concentration and couldn't understand why. That was when the nightmares started, when he'd wake up from a drunken stupor, call a random priest's number and tell him he had once been molested by a priest.

In 1992, a sober Schwiderski told Lucker that Marks had abused him. Currently unemployed, Schwiderski has been in therapy for about a year and says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

"I'm told the issue will be with me the rest of my life," he said. "But at least I know what causes it."

Jeffrey Anderson, one of the lawyers handling the lawsuits, is well-known for litigation against priests accused of molesting children. In 1990, he settled eight cases involving child abuse allegations against the Rev. Thomas Paul Adamson and the church hierarchy. In 1993, he handled civil cases involving former Catholic priest James Porter, who eventually was sentenced to concurrent terms of 18 to 20 years in a Massachusetts state prison for molestation there.

Though Marks died years ago, the accusations against him are similar to those against Porter and Adamson, Anderson said.


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