Priest, Accuser Head to Trial
Defamation Suit Filed by Clergyman an Unusual Case

Associated Press, carried in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [Madison WI]
July 31, 2005

Madison - A Catholic priest's defamation lawsuit against a man who says the priest abused him as a boy heads to trial today in Janesville.

The case will pit supporters of the priest, Father Gerald Vosen, against advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse who say the lawsuit is retaliation against a victim.

Although hundreds of people have sued priests during the Catholic Church's sexual abuse crisis over the past few years, observers say it's unusual for a priest to sue - especially when a church investigation has called the allegation credible.

Vosen, on administrative leave from his job as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Baraboo, and his supporters have disputed the abuse allegation and say they look forward to proving it false in court. The lawsuit names the man and his parents and says their allegation ruined his reputation.

"I hope to get my name cleared," Vosen told The Associated Press in a phone interview from his Merrimac home.

The 26-year-old man and his parents told the Madison Diocese two years ago that Vosen abused him for two years when he was an elementary school student at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Janesville. Vosen was pastor of the church at the time.

In a sworn affidavit filed in court, the man says that when he was a sixth-grader, Vosen warned him of retribution - including that he would go to hell - if the boy ever told others about the abuse.

"The very act of filing a lawsuit against me and my parents, claiming that we lied and defamed him, is exactly the type of act of ruination of my family's reputation he had previously threatened," the man said in the affidavit.

Victims' advocates say the trial will force the man to relive childhood abuse and deter other victims from stepping forward. They have asked Madison Bishop Robert Morlino to order Vosen to drop the lawsuit.

Vosen's parish in Baraboo has supported him, and some members are planning to attend the trial.