Vosen Supporters to Show up in Court

Baraboo News Republic [Baraboo WI]
July 28, 2005

BARABOO - Baraboo priest Father Gerald Vosen will defend his reputation against sexual abuse charges when his defamation lawsuit against a Janesville man and his family goes to court next week.

Vosen, former pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church, is scheduled to be in Rock County Circuit Court in Janesville Monday for the civil action against Peter L. Arnold and his parents, Leland and Nancy Arnold. According to court documents, they told church authorities in 2003 that Vosen abused Peter when he was 11 and 12 years old while Vosen was pastor at Janesville's St. John Vianney Catholic Parish in 1989-1991. Vosen's supporters will gather at the church's new parking lot on East and Second streets at 8 a.m. Monday, said Kathy Siberz, a parish member. They will car pool to Janesville for the trial, she said.

"Certainly, anyone who would like to support father is welcome to join us," she said. "This is just a few of us who support Father Vosen and want to clear his name and who believe him."

Vosen has denied Arnolds' allegations and others that have been made against him.

In court, Peter Arnold will have to show his allegations are substantially true in order to defend himself and his family from liability for defaming Vosen, said Patrick K. McDonald of Janesville, Vosen's attorney in the case.

Because Peter's testimony about the allegations has been inconsistent, McDonald said he believes the jury will find Vosen's reputation has been smeared unjustly.

"We can't prove a negative," he said. "In this case, not only did Peter contradict himself many times... but there are many, many details that anyone familiar with the physical layout of St. John Vianney and the practices at St. John Vianney would know are physically impossible to have occurred as Peter has claimed." The Arnolds' attorney, John P. Casey of Milwaukee, said the contradictions in Peter Arnold's testimony are the result of the fact he was in fifth and sixth grade when the alleged abuse happened.

Casey expected the jury will find Peter Arnold's testimony believable enough to reject Vosen's charge he and his family members defamed his character. However, real vindication for the family would come if the church takes action against him and no longer allows Vosen to have contact with children as a Catholic priest, Casey said.

Allegations against Vosen began in September 2003 when Karen Dresang Nelson of Sun Prairie told a state legislative committee he abused her brother, then age 14, about 28 years ago. The brother, James Dresang of Madison, denied the allegations and said he could not understand why his sister made them. Shortly afterwards Vosen was informally suspended from his duties at St. Joseph. In February 2004, the Madison Diocese Sexual Abuse Review Board reported there are three individuals who have made abuse allegations against Vosen. They reported at least one case was credible enough to require further investigation.

Bishop Robert C. Morlino placed Vosen on administrative leave and referred his case to church authorities at the Vatican in Rome.

"This decision should in no way be construed as a judgment of guilt concerning these allegations," Morlino wrote.

Bill Brophy, spokesman for the Madison Catholic Diocese, said the church is not releasing any information about the hierarchy's continuing examination of allegations against Vosen. The review by church officials is a strictly confidential process, he said.

The current pastor of St. Joseph Church, Father Larry Bakke, said he is a friend of Vosen and thinks it is good for people to show support for him. However, the trip to Janesville is not an official action by the parish.

McDonald said the effort to defend Vosen's name has been expensive, costing thousands of dollars, despite the fact he is working for Vosen without payment. He said he will ask the jury to decide an unspecified monetary judgment against the Arnolds if they reach a verdict that the family defamed Vosen.

Vosen is willing to drop the lawsuit if Peter Arnold will admit he made a mistake for some reason, McDonald said.

"That's really the reason for this lawsuit, to establish fact there is absolutely no truth to the (accusations) and to have Father Vosen's good name restored to the extent that's possible," he said.