Diocese Received Report about Father Umberger a Year Ago

August 6, 2010

The Diocese of La Crosse admits it learned of accusations an Onalaska priest followed young boys into a Wisconsin Dells water park bathroom almost a year ago, but says church leaders took appropriate action to deal with the situation.

A statement on the Diocese's website says church officials received a copy of the Lake Delton police report in September of 2009. The report indicated there was suspicion but "no evidence" Father Patrick Umberger had committed a crime.

Officials at Noah's Ark revoked Rev. Umberger's season pass and placed him on a watch list after he was allegedly seen following boys into a bathroom.

However, the Diocese says the report it received failed to mention the water park revoked Father Umberger's pass. It did say Onalaska Police were aware of the report and would follow up.

It is the policy of the Diocese to refer all allegations of this type to law enforcement.

The diocese says it also contacted Father Umberger and questioned him about the matter. His explanation was confirmed.

Onalaska police arrested the 59-year-old priest in July of this year for possession of child pornography.

He plead not guilty to the charges.

Umberger has resigned from his post as Pastor of Saint Patrick's in Onalaska. The Diocese has yet to name his replacement.

Here is the entire Statement from the Diocese:

There is a general perception that the Diocese of La Crosse knew far more than it actually did regarding what transpired on July 22, 2009 at the water park in Lake Delton. The first and only knowledge the Diocese had of the Lake Delton matter was when it received a mailed copy of the Lake Delton Police Report consisting of five (5) pages. It was received by the Diocese seven weeks after July 22, 2009 on September 8, 2009 and it did not contain any written statements from Noah's Ark staff, including the now widely published Noah's Ark report of April 28, 2010 or any other additional information. No other law enforcement contact was made to the Diocese. The report states, among other things, that there were no complaints from any children and no evidence of improper activity that could amount to a crime despite Father Umberger's complete cooperation including a consented search of his car, his person and the restroom in question. The report did not allege any interaction or suspicious activity with children in or outside the restroom. The only thing the Diocese knew at the time was that there was mere suspicion but no evidence of any crime or other wrong doing.

The Diocese specifically was not aware that Father Umberger had contact with any children or that he had been placed on any watch list by Noah's Ark.

The report further specifically indicated that the matter was referred to the Onalaska Police Department and the Wisconsin Dells Police Department for follow-up. By policy and practice, the Diocese refers and defers to law enforcement. It steps back and waits for law enforcement to complete its investigation. There was no cover up. The information came from law enforcement. Previously, the Diocese was criticized for not referring to law enforcement and conducting its own investigation which might interfere with the police investigation.

Upon receipt of the report, the Diocese immediately contacted Father Umberger and questioned him about the matter. The Diocese had no knowledge of any prior complaints. An investigation was made to verify Father Umberger's explanation and it was confirmed.

The Diocese had no knowledge of and did not learn of Father Umberger's access to any pornography, attraction to children or other moral infractions.

Subsequently, the Diocese received no information of any conduct of a sexual nature until his arrest on July 14, 2010. Records previously requested and first produced from law enforcement on July 29, 2010 (one year and seven days after the Lake Delton incident), now reveal that law enforcement was revisiting the Lake Delton matter in April of 2010. No one contacted or alerted the Diocese to that effect.

The Diocese was shocked and saddened to learn on July 14, 2010 of Father Umberger's arrest and charge of possession of child pornography, of his reported statements of improper attraction to children and other moral infractions.

The Diocese followed its protocols, deferred to law enforcement and acted upon the information it was provided.


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