Review Board Finds Abuse Allegation Unsubstantiated
Priest at Dousman Parish Is First Cleared by Archdiocese

By Tom Heinen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinal [Milwaukee WI]
August 9, 2004

Father John P. Schreiter has returned to his Waukesha County parish after the Diocesan Review Board decided an allegation of sexual abuse against him was unsubstantiated, the first such acquittal since the board was established in early 2003.

Schreiter, pastor of St. Bruno Church in Dousman, had been on leave since April 22 while the archdiocese investigated his case. An incident with a minor that was alleged to have happened nearly 25 years ago in Sauk County was not reported to church officials until mid-March.

The 62-year-old priest resumed his parish ministry on Friday and presided at all four weekend Masses.

"I was at all of the liturgies, and he got standing ovations and people were crying, they were just so excited," said Karen Warnes, pastoral associate at the parish. "The vicar (for clergy) came and read a letter from the archbishop at every Mass."

Schreiter was not at the parish office Monday and could not be reached for comment. The parish is planning a "joyful homecoming" for him at 7 p.m. Thursday that will include a prayer service and an outdoor celebration with food, Warnes said.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan reported to parishioners that the review board, led by former Lieutenant Governor Margaret Farrow, "concluded that the report is not substantiated."

"Many of you have expressed your concern about the time it has taken to reach a conclusion," Dolan says in the letter. "Our system is not perfect, but I strongly believe it is essential that we be thorough, no matter how long the process takes."

Peter Isely, a regional representative of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said his group did not know any details of the case against Schreiter but he hoped the decision would not discourage victims in other cases from coming forward.

"We've always maintained that there's a small number of false reports . . . ," Isely said. "It should allay fears that priests have, and some laypeople seem to have, that this is a system in which no priest can have a fair shake."

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Kathleen Hohl said that other members of the review board include: Hannah Dugan, a Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee attorney; Charles Lodl, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Mequon; Father James Connell, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Parish and St. Clement Parish, both in Sheboygan, and vice chancellor of the archdiocese; and two who previously served on an archdiocesan advisory commission on sexual abuse, the Rev. Donald Hands, an Episcopal priest who has worked as a psychologist-supervisor at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility; and Anthony Kuchan, a retired Marquette University psychology professor.

Under a process that conforms to requirements set by the U.S. Conference of Bishops and the Vatican, the archdiocese first refers allegations of sexual abuse of a minor to civil authorities. If they do not take action, an outside investigator hired by the archdiocese pursues the matter and makes a recommendation to the review board, which makes an advisory decision that is then referred to Dolan.

In Schreiter's case, the allegation was first sent to the Sauk County district attorney's office, which notified the archdiocese in April that it could not consider the case because the statute of limitations had expired.

Hohl said the review board can make only two possible determinations - substantiated or not substantiated. She was not able to describe the general standards and criteria the board uses.

Isely said a group of victims in mediation with the archdiocese has been unsuccessful in its requests to meet with the review board to learn the board's process, criteria and definitions.

Two priests remain on leave with unresolved allegations, Hohl said.

Father Joseph Haas has been on leave as pastor of St. Peter of Alcantra Church in Port Washington since Feb. 13 over an allegation that he sexually abused a minor more than 25 years ago while assigned to a church in Milwaukee. Father Ronald Engel was placed on leave at the end of April because unnamed law enforcement authorities were investigating him on suspicion of use of computer pornography involving minors.