Catholics Advised to Distance Themselves from Vosen Book

By Catherine Idzerda
December 6, 2008

JANESVILLE — Catholics who own a copy of the Rev. Gerald Vosen's book are in danger of having a "canonical crime declared" on them, according to a news release from the Diocese of Madison.

The news release is the latest chapter in the former St. John Vianney priest who was accused in 2003 of sexually assaulting a Janesville boy. The man, who was 26 years old when he made his accusations, said the assault happened when he was in fifth and six grades.

Vosen, 74, has maintained his innocence.

Vosen's book, "Pick a Number: Stories of Faith" is primarily a series of short sermons with gentle and easy to understand messages.

However, one of the chapters deals with the events of 2003, when he was removed from his parish and charged with the abuse. Vosen also writes about a subsequent meeting about the matter he had with Bishop Robert Morlino.

Vosen was in Janesville last month promoting the book. On Monday, the Diocese of Madison announced he could no longer celebrate mass, either publicly or privately.

The ban on public masses was established in 2003, but the ban on private masses is new, said Brent King, director of communications for the diocese.

The new sanctions are a result of Vosen mentioning what happened during trial proceedings.

"As Fr. Vosen knows, the entire penal trial is under Pontifical Secret and no mention of its proceedings is to be made," the news release said.

The proceedings are kept under wraps to protect the parties involved, King said.

Baptized Catholics or those who have made a profession of faith who purchase Fr. Vosen's book are at risk of participating in this breach of the Pontifical Secret," the news release said.

Thus, owning or "supporting" the book in any way would be the equivalent of being a party to the crime, after the fact.

Violating a pontifical secret is a "very serious" offense, King said.

Catholics who brought the book before bishop's announcement and "were unaware of the breach he committed have not incurred a canonical penalty but are advised to destroy the book or return it to Fr. Vosen."

"Once informed, continued support of Fr. Vosen's book may result in a canonical crime being declared on the individual involved."

Janesville attorney Patrick McDonald led Vosen's defamation of character lawsuit against his accuser in 2004.

No credible evidence was presented to support the young man's accusations, and his accuser contradicted himself several times, said McDonald. Still, the jury believed Vosen's accuser.

Later, several jurors said they didn't believe there was enough evidence to convict Vosen in a criminal case.

McDonald, a Catholic, said he had been given a copy of the book as a gift. He declined to say who gave him book or what he would do with it.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss that," McDonald said.

What happens to Catholics who keep copies of the book? It's more a matter of conscience than criminal offense.

"There is no 'canon-law police', rather, more often than not, we must regularly police ourselves in these matters, and we must always reconcile ourselves to the law of the Church," King wrote in an e-mail.

Catholics believe the bishops have been entrusted to govern the church according to the law of the church, King explained. That idea comes out of Matthew: 16, where Christ entrusts the keys of the church to Peter.

So when there is a serious violation of canon law the bishop must let people know, especially if they might, unknowingly, be a party to that violation, King explained.


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