Priest's Lawyer Points out Inconsistencies

By Mike DuPre
Janesville Gazette [Wisconsin]
August 2, 2005

The Rev. Gerald Vosen is trying to prove in Rock County Court that a 26-year-old Janesville man's accusations of sexual assault were false and defamed him.

On Monday, Vosen's attorney, Patrick McDonald of Janesville, tried to point out inconsistencies between earlier letters and sworn statements made by the man's parents and their testimony in court before Judge John Roethe and a jury of 13, one of whom is an alternate.

McDonald is a parishioner at St. John Vianney Church, the Roman Catholic parish where Vosen was pastor and where the boy and his family were deeply involved in parish life.

McDonald also elicited testimony that would seem to cast doubt on the man's allegations of how and where the abuse occurred.

The Rev. Gerald Vosen listens to testimony during his defamation trial at the Rock County Courthouse on Monday. Vosen is trying to prove that a 26-year-old Janesville man's claims of sexual assault are false and defamed the former pastor at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Janesville. He called as witnesses the Rev. William Nolan of Fort Atkinson, a former assistant to Vosen; Christian Dahmen of Janesville, the man responsible for the church and its sacristy, where priests and altar servers don their vestments; and James Lindemann of McFarland, former principal at St. John Vianney.

The family's attorney, John Casey of Milwaukee, tried to underline inconsistencies between Nolan's court testimony and an earlier sworn deposition.

The courtroom's 80 seats were nearly full.

Most of the people were there to support Vosen.

The bulk of them came from St. Joseph Catholic Parish in Baraboo, where Vosen also served as pastor. Twenty-eight of his supporters rode by bus from Baraboo.

Two people in the audience were from the group SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) to support the man and his family.

Though Vosen has not been charged with a crime, the essence of the case is whether he assaulted the man when he was 11 and 12 and in the fifth and sixth grades at St. John Vianney.

The man made the accusations to his mother during an early morning phone call in February 2003.

The parents are also named as defendants in Vosen's lawsuit, which charges they made allegations against him "with reckless disregard for the truth."

People listen intently during testimony at the defamation trial of the Rev. Gerald Vosen at the Rock County Courthouse in Janesville on Monday. The courtroom's 80 seats were almost all full during the proceedings. The man "accused Father Vosen of extreme, often brutal sexual abuse," McDonald told the jury in his opening arguments.

Though the man claimed the assaults occurred at different times over two years, "he waited 10 years until after the abuse supposedly occurred to tell his family," McDonald said.

After he told his parents, they made the same accusations to the Diocese of Madison without checking their son's charges, McDonald said.

Three people accused Vosen of sexual misconduct in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison has said, and the diocese's Sexual Abuse Review Board has determined that the allegations of at least one victim were believable enough to warrant administrative leave for Vosen.

The priest's case has been referred to the Vatican, but it's unclear what, if any action, the Vatican will take.

Casey, the defense attorney, tried to turn the tables on Vosen.

Vosen, the plaintiff, is trying to portray the suit as a case between two men, Casey said. He told the jury:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this isn't between two men. This is between a grown man who took the childhood of a young boy. Father Vosen took advantage of a young boy. There is no argument about that."

But that is precisely what Vosen is arguing.

The man and his parents said in earlier statements to the diocese and sworn depositions that Vosen assaulted him in the church's sacristy and rectory.

The sacristy is a room behind the sanctuary; the sanctuary is where the altar is. The rectory houses parish offices and living quarters for priests.

The accuser and his parents said in earlier statements that he sometimes would be assaulted after being sent by school principal Lindemann to Vosen for discipline for school problems. The mother repeated the charges Monday.

But Lindemann testified: "I can't ever recall him being in the principal's office for disciplinary problems that got as far as me."

Furthermore, Lindemann said he would not have sent any child to Vosen for discipline for school problems because that was his job as principal.

Dahmen, the sacristy caretaker, and Nolan, the assistant pastor, testified that the sacristy was a busy place before and after Mass with little or no opportunity for someone to assault someone else.

They also testified that internal doors from the church to the rectory were always locked.

Their testimony indicated that if someone other than a priest or parish staff wanted to enter the rectory, he or she would have to do so through the public front door, not from the back of the church or through a basement as the man's mother testified he told her that Vosen told him to do.

Under cross-examination, Nolan acknowledged he was Vosen's friend. Asked if it was possible that Vosen could have assaulted the man, Nolan replied: "Knowing Father Vosen, I'd say it didn't occur."

But Casey cited Nolan's earlier testimony in a deposition that an assault in the rectory was "possible."

And because Nolan was not with Vosen every minute of the day, Nolan acknowledged that in his deposition, he said: "I cannot say that it did not occur."

The trial was to continue this morning.