La Crosse Priest Removed in Case Involving a 30-Year-Old Allegation

By Juliet Williams
Associated Press
August 27, 2004

MILWAUKEE - The Roman Catholic Diocese of La Crosse said Thursday it has removed a priest from ministry after finding an allegation he abused a girl more than 30 years ago was credible.

The Rev. Raymond Bornbach can no longer serve as a priest, confirmed the Rev. Lawrence Dunklee, director of the office for clergy in La Crosse. Bornbach, though, had already retired.

In an Aug. 16 letter to his accuser, Brenda Varga, the diocese said its review panel had concluded her abuse allegations were credible.

"Because these matters occurred so long ago, and because Father Bornbach has consistently denied your allegations, your complaints have been challenging and time consuming to investigate and to resolve," said the letter, signed by the Very Rev. Richard Gilles, the diocese administrator. "Nevertheless, I have concluded that your complaint has been sufficiently confirmed."

Varga, now 42, said the priest abused her for about a year in 1971, taking her and her younger sister to his house and buying them gifts after meeting her at her cousin's wedding. She said although she did not belong to Bornbach's church, he got permission from her parents to see the girls.

Bornbach's attorney, J. David Rice, said his client denies ever abusing Varga.

"He denies that there was any improper conduct on his part," Rice said. "It's the only accusation that's been made against him in 63 years as a priest and it's very upsetting to him at this stage in his life. He's not in the best health and he's 89 years old."

Varga said she first brought her complaint to the diocese in January 2003 but spent more than a year going back and forth with officials, meeting with members of the lay review board appointed by the diocese and opening up records of her psychotherapy to the board.

Varga said she feels relieved the case has ended after so long, although she did not feel the diocese addressed all her concerns. She had asked the diocese to make Bornbach's name public and reimburse her for some of her years of therapy.

"I really want an apology. I don't think I'll ever get it, though," she said.