|Group Wants Records on Priest
By Brian D. Bridgeford
Baraboo News Republic
October 21, 2008
Catholic Church authorities in Madison will not release their files about the case of suspended Baraboo priest Rev. Gerald Vosen as was requested Monday by an anti-abuse group, a diocese spokesman says.
Members of the nationwide group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests hand delivered a letter to offices of the Diocese of Madison asking Bishop Robert C. Morlino to release details of sexual abuse allegations and church deliberations involving Vosen, said Peter Isely, Midwest director of SNAP. However, he also said SNAP is defending Morlino in the face of criticisms made by Vosen in his book "Pick a Number: Stories of Faith," which he is releasing to the public this week.
"We've disagreed with Bishop Morlino on how he's handled victims in some of these cases, not releasing files and documents and so forth, so it is unusual we're kind of finding ourselves defending him," Isely said.
Vosen was the longtime pastor of Baraboo's St. Joseph Catholic Church when he was suspended after allegations surfaced in September 2003 that he had abused boys decades earlier. A church tribunal eventually ruled against Vosen and he is appealing their decision to officials in Rome.
Vosen sued one alleged victim for defamation in May 2004, but a Rock County jury's verdict went against him. Vosen has not been charged with any crimes related to the allegations, and no alleged victim has sued him for damages.
In their letter, SNAP members liken priests to other professionals in a position of trust, such as doctors, teachers and attorneys, who are subject to licensing, Isely said. He noted he is a social worker and is subject to licensing in that role.
The records of the allegations and the church's decisions about Vosen should be made public, he said.
"I understand the investigation has to be confidential, but once there's a ruling (against the professional), an action, a license revoked, all that is public," Isely said. "There's no mystery about what the evidence was or why the board ruled the way it did.
"I think he deserves, and everybody deserves, the same kind of procedure and transparency that you see in other professions in civil society," he said. "There shouldn't be mysteries around the determinations and rulings and so forth."
In some cases around the United States, bishops have released files relating to church proceedings in child sexual abuse cases, Isely said. Sometimes the release has been done under court order; other times, the bishop has released the records voluntarily.
Vosen, in a telephone interview Monday with the Baraboo News Republic, rejected the idea of releasing the records. He noted the abuse allegations of one alleged victim were made public during the defamation suit.
"They have no right to those (church) records. They're not public records," he said. "The only public records are the (defamation lawsuit) trial in Janesville."
Madison Diocese spokesman Brent King said a church representative accepted the SNAP letter, but no response was given to the advocacy organization. Furthermore, the church will maintain the confidentiality of the records of Vosen's case, he said.
"When it comes down to any case still being adjudicated, it's diocesan policy to never discuss any of those details," he said. "It would never be the case that we would ever release the names of anyone making an allegation."
King said he does not expect Morlino or the Madison Diocese to have any formal response to the SNAP letter.
Isely also claims Vosen is violating church law by criticizing Morlino and church officials who have ruled against him. Since Vosen has been suspended from priestly duties, he should not be publishing a book of homilies, he said.
"He should not be presenting himself as a priest," Isely said. "It's a continuation of his priestly ministry, it's a book of sermons."
Vosen asserted his right to express his faith and ideas based on freedom of speech. He said all his actions have complied with church rules governing a priest who is suspended.
"I've got the right of the freedom of speech like anybody else," he said. "That's all that I'm doing.
"It has nothing to do with whether I'm acting as a priest or not, I'm acting as a person," Vosen said.
If Morlino has any issues with Vosen's actions, his book or any criticism he has made, he will speak with Vosen in private, King said. The bishop will not make any comments to the media or in public, King said.
"It would be the bishop's policy with any priest. He'll deal with that with the priest one on one other than publicly through the media," King said. "He would have that conversation face to face with Father Vosen."
SNAP letter to Bishop Robert Morlino
October 20, 2008
To: Robert Morlino, Bishop of Madison
From: Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director
Re: Father Gerald Vosen
I am writing to you on behalf of victims of childhood sexual abuse by clergy in Wisconsin and from your diocese to release the church file of Fr. Gerald Vosen.
As you know, hundreds of files of priests determined by their bishops to have sexually abused children have been released across the United States. Some of those files have been made public by court order, others have been voluntarily released. Almost universally, the release of these documents have been the single most effective means of protecting children and the vulnerable from clergy and former clergy that have a history of child molestation.
When a teacher, psychologist, medical doctor or any other of the dozens of licensed and certified professions in the state of Wisconsin is found by his professional board to have committed ethical and especially criminal misconduct, the results of that investigation, including the revocation of his or her license, is publicized and the ruling and evidence is readily available, including being posted online by the State Department of Regulation and Licensing.
Given the recent and very public denials of criminal behavior against minors by one of your priests, Fr. Gerald Vosen, isn't it time for the diocese to follow the example of all other professions working in civil society to publish the evidence and rulings that have been concluded against Fr. Vosen? These would include the results of two church investigations and one civil jury trial. In my long experience working on the issue of clergy sexual abuse I have rarely seen a priest receive so many abundant and ample opportunities for due process. He has argued his case before a lay review board, canon law judges, and jury of his peers.
You have exercised extraordinary deference to Fr. Vosen. If he was a member of any other profession, his license would have been revoked years ago, he would not be receiving benefits, and he could not maintain the public use of his professional title or credentials.
In Vosen's recently published book, he attacks your integrity, impartiality and most significantly, your apostolic authority—an astonishing claim, especially given how you have permitted him to sue one of his victims in civil court (a case he nevertheless lost before a jury of his peers) and was given a full and complete hearing, with legal representation, before a lay board and clerical court. Vosen, in his book, indicates that he is in some kind of regular and presumably pastoral contact with parishioners from past assignments. One can also presume that this means children and families. These individuals, especially, need to see the content and results of your many investigations. They need to see, properly redacted to protect the confidentiality of victims and witnesses, as is standard in these releases, why you are convinced that Vosen is a child molester and so dangerous that you will not permit him to practice ministry as a priest or publically present himself as a priest. But that appears to be exactly what Vosen is now doing.
Our organization has often been at odds with you and your fellow bishops on how the hierarchy has handled abusive priests. In his book, Vosen claims that you, SNAP, jurors, canon law judges, and lay Catholics on your review board are in some kind of "allegiance" against him. This appears to be the one truthful statement in his book, except that we are not in an allegiance against him—a ridiculously narcissist and self-serving claim—but in an allegiance for children and against child abuse.
Perhaps, unwittingly, Fr. Vosen has brought us together for a dialogue, and to that end I ask you again, as we have several times in the past, to sit down with our organization and survivors from the Madison diocese.
SNAP Midwest Director
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Wisconsin Director
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is the nation's oldest and largest self-help organization of clergy sex abuse survivors with over 8,000 members in 62 chapters (SNAPnetwork.org).
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