Thompson Allowed Convicted Priest to Hold Memorial Service in Prison

By Jason Stein
Jackson County Chronicle
August 14, 2008

[Note from This article contains references to the deposition of Cardinal Francis E. George. Below we have added links to the deposition and its exhibits. We have also added a link to a newspaper article referred to below.]

MADISON — Former Gov. Tommy Thompson played a key role in arranging an unusual memorial service for the mother of a former Catholic priest and convicted child molester inside a Wisconsin prison, according to documents that surfaced this week as part of a legal settlement.

The documents also provide a fuller picture into the efforts by Catholic officials to win better treatment and even early release for the former priest.

In a September 8, 1997, letter to Thompson, Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, thanked the then-Republican governor for "personal thoughtfulness in granting an extraordinary permission" for the body of the priest's deceased mother to be brought into the prison. [See Exhibit 21.]

The former Chicago priest, Norbert Maday, was serving time for sexually assaulting two boys in Wisconsin.

George's letter was released as part of a $12.7 million legal settlement announced Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois between the Chicago Roman Catholic Archdiocese and 16 victims of sexual abuse by Maday and other priests.

"It was an exceptional act of charity," George wrote to Thompson, who is Catholic. "I know of the extraordinary planning and subsequent mobilization that had to take place that day. It required exceptional effort of your staff."

The letter drew sharp criticism from Peter Isely of Milwaukee, the Midwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who said it showed the special treatment priests can receive from public officials.

"The unwritten law has been, unfortunately, that clearly priests and bishops are treated differently, even if they've raped children, than other citizens. And that has to change," Isely said.

Thompson spokesman Jason Denby said Thompson was traveling on business and unavailable Wednesday to comment on the letter and the memorial service.

In an e-mail, Susan Burritt, a spokeswoman for the Chicago archdiocese, said she didn't know how George first approached Thompson's office or whether Maday received special treatment. Mayday was withdrawn from public ministry in March 1992 and stripped of the priesthood in December 2007, Burritt said.

The service for Maday's mother, Catherine, was held on Aug. 27, 1997, and involved bringing her sealed casket and a hearse into Fox Lake Correctional Institution. Two funeral home workers, at least one Catholic priest and six other people on Maday's approved visitor list attended the 15-minute memorial, the Wisconsin State Journal reported two weeks later. [See
Fox Lake Prison Hosts One-of-a-Kind Funeral Service, by George Hesselberg, Wisconsin State Journal, September 12, 1997.]

The State Journal reported then that corrections officials in Madison arranged the service after Thompson's office received the request from Catholic officials in Chicago. At the time, a spokesman for Thompson's office was vague about the governor's personal role in handling the request.

After the service, the warden at the prison told the newspaper he would not approve such an arrangement again.

Under current policy, a memorial service can be held in a prison, but no remains or casket can be brought in, said Rachel Krueger, a state Department of Corrections spokeswoman. Corrections officials aren't aware of any other such service being allowed.

"This service was unusual," Krueger said.

Maday, 70, was an associate pastor at Our Lady of Ridge parish in Chicago Ridge, Ill. He was convicted in 1994 in Winnebago County of two counts of second-degree sexual assault and had two counts of intimidating a witness dismissed by the prosecutor. The molestations occurred in 1986 at an outreach center in Oshkosh. Maday was sentenced to 20 years in prison, with a mandatory release date of October 2007.

He served his full sentence and now is facing a state action in Winnebago County to have him civilly committed as a sexually violent person, said Brown County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Greene, who is handling the case. He is being held at the Wisconsin Resource Center in Winnebago awaiting his commitment trial, which begins Nov. 17.

Maday's lawyer in that case, Aaron Birnbaum, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The victims' lawyer in the Illinois case, Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., said in an interview that George and the archdiocese also attempted unsuccessfully to seek early release for Maday. Anderson pointed to a May 1999 letter written to the Wisconsin Parole Commission outlining how the diocese could help supervise Maday if he were released. [See Exhibit 26.]

A February 2000 internal archdiocese memo also suggested having the then-92-year-old Aloysius Wycislo, the now deceased bishop emeritus of Green Bay, "intercede with the governor in his own name" on Maday's behalf. [See Exhibit 30.] But George has denied actually asking Wycislo to do so [see Deposition p. 261] and Tony Kuick, a spokesman for the Diocese of Green Bay, said Wednesday that Wycislo never spoke with Thompson about Maday.


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