Wis. Priest Charged with Child Porn Possession

By Todd Richmond
Victoria Advocate
July 16, 2010

A western Wisconsin priest charged Thursday with possessing child pornography allegedly told authorities he was attracted to young boys and used photographs on his computer for sexual arousal, according to a criminal complaint.

The Rev. Patrick A. Umberger, the Diocese of La Crosse's Web master, faces one felony count punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and 25 years in prison. Among several images of children that state department of justice agents discovered on Umberger's computer were three photographs depicting boys and possibly a girl in sexual positions, according to the complaint.

Umberger, 59, has served as pastor at St. Patrick's Parish in Onalaska since 2005. He also teaches at the parish's school and serves as chaplain at Aquinas Middle School in La Crosse, according to his website.

The Diocese of La Crosse has stripped Umberger of his duties "to protect all parties involved," according to a Thursday statement from diocese attorney James Birnbaum. However, the diocese cautioned the move should not be taken as a sign of Umberger's guilt or innocence.

Umberger, who was arrested Wednesday, was released Thursday on a $10,000 signature bond and ordered not to have contact with children or use a computer. Online court filings did not list a personal defense attorney.

The case against Umberger began when police received a report that he had been acting "suspiciously" at a Lake Delton water park in July 2009, according to the criminal complaint.

A family had told Noah's Ark Water Park employees that Umberger was sitting near a kiddie pool and following boys into the men's restroom, and the employees called police, according to a Lake Delton Police report. Umberger told an officer he had a season pass and was near the restrooms because he had prostate problems and had to urinate often, the report said.

The officer told Umberger that park officials had revoked his season pass and drove him to his car. The officer noted she questioned Umberger for an hour and he never had to use the restroom. Noah's Ark Operations Manager Justin Strayer said in a statement Thursday that Umberger remains on the park's watch list.

Lake Delton officers shared the report with police in Onalaska, who discovered Umberger had a website as well as a Facebook account that listed many young boys as friends. Onalaska Police turned the case over to the state Justice Department.

During an interview with a justice department agent Wednesday, Umberger denied any inappropriate sexual contact with children during his 30 years as a priest and said nothing inappropriate happened at the water park, according to the criminal complaint.

Umberger allegedly told the agent, however, that he found people could become sexually attracted to him when they were 12 or 13 years old and he was attracted to boys between the ages of 12 and 15 or older.

Former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland ordained Umberger in 1980. Weakland resigned as archbishop in 2002 after admitting the archdiocese secretly paid $450,000 to a man who accused Weakland of sexual abuse.

Umberger served multiple stints around central and western Wisconsin, including stops at parishes in Arcadia, La Crosse, Mauston, Wonewoc and Elroy. He describes himself on his website as a self-taught computer user, saying he bought his first computer in 1984 through the mail and never has had a computer class of any kind.

In August 2005 then-Bishop Jerome Listecki, now the archbishop of Milwaukee, named Umberger web master for the Diocese of La Crosse and the following year he was named to a committee to select software for the diocese.

Jessica Kircher - an associate of Birnbaum, the diocese attorney - said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that the diocese was not aware of Umberger's alleged inappropriate computer use. Milwaukee Archdiocese spokeswoman Gillian Lester-George said in an e-mail that Listecki was "surprised and saddened" to hear about Umberger's arrest.

"Archbishop Listecki had no previous indication that there were any potential issues that would have prevented Fr. Pat from serving in public ministry," Lester-George wrote.


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