Review Board Won't Judge Priests

By Annysa Johnson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 18, 2011

Members of a local review board created to advise Catholic religious orders in their handling of sex abuse allegations said it did not exonerate two priests of the Franklin-based Priests of the Sacred Heart, as their order suggested last week.

Instead, review board members say they lacked enough information to make recommendations regarding the decades-old allegations, and that determining the veracity of a complaint is beyond the scope of its responsibilities.

"We do not attempt in any way to try to determine guilt or innocence," said Jim Freiburger, a psychologist who has been on the board since 2009.

"We may make recommendations?.?.?.?that they be monitored or that they get all the evaluations or assessments they need," he said, "?.?.?. but to suggest we're decision-makers?.?.?.?that's not within the bounds of our board."

The discrepancy surfaced last week when the Journal Sentinel reported that Fathers William Pitcavage and Thomas Lind, who are named in a sex abuse lawsuit in South Dakota, were returned to ministry in February after the Milwaukee Area Review Board found the allegations against them were "not credible."

Sex abuse victims and survivor advocates objected, saying there had been no formal vote and no interviews with the accusers, who are not identified in the lawsuits. And two board members, including its chairman, said the order's statement misrepresented its findings and its role.

"The information was very sketchy as to what happened or when it happened," said Jan Ruidl, a clergy sex abuse survivor and parish lay worker who chairs the review board. "It was very difficult to come to any conclusion."

Mary Gorski, spokeswoman for the Priests of the Sacred Heart, said the order based its findings on an email from Brother Mark Carrico, a Capuchin friar who staffed the review board at the time. Carrico's February email to Sacred Heart Provincial Father Tom Cassidy said: "The board does not feel that it has enough relevant information to make any recommendations regarding these individuals, and is comfortable with the conclusions that were presented."

Cassidy was out of the country and unavailable for comment.

According to Brother Frank Presto, an associate of Cassidy, the conclusions Cassidy presented were: "that the allegations against Father Lind and Father Pitcavage were neither credible nor established?.?.?.?and the men should be returned to public ministry."

Carrico, now in the Capuchin's provincial headquarters in Detroit, said he communicated with the order about the findings but that the wording was not his. Procedure calls for the order to write up what it thinks the review board ruled and send it to him for circulation to board members. If no one objects, the interpretation stands.

Wording called misleading

Carrico said he would have said the allegations were "unsubstantiated," rather than "not credible," because of the lack of information available to the review board.

"I know 'credible' is used. But we've come to determine that that's not the best word."


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