Church Board Denies “exonerating” Two Priests Accused of Child Sexual Assault

By John Pilmaier
SNAP Wisconsin
August 18, 2011

Statements contradict claims made by Priests of the Sacred Heart

Statement by John Pilmaier: Wisconsin SNAP Director

CONTACT: 414.336.8575

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (and posted below) reports today that members of the church based “Milwaukee Area Review Board” have denied that they exonerated two priests of the sacred heart accused of sexually abusing minors.

Mary Gorski, spokesperson for the Priests of the Sacred Heart, had earlier claimed that the review board had cleared the two priests, Fr. William Pitcavage and Fr. Thomas Lind, of sexually abusing children. Both Pitcavage, who was recently elected the Order’s vice provincial, and Lind were removed from ministry following lawsuits filed against them and the Sacred Heart Priests for sexual abuse of Native American children in the 1970’s at a boarding school in South Dakota.

Gorski’s assertion last Thursday was that Pitcavage and Lind had been cleared of abuse by the board, following questions posed after the arrest of Fr. David Szatkowski. Szatkowski, another Priest of the Sacred Heart, and a Provincial Officer like Pitcavage, was charged last Thursday with second degree sexual assault of a minor in LaCrosse.

When asked about the status of Pitcavage and Lind, Gorski categorically stated that the Milwaukee Review Board had “cleared” the priests of abuse for reports found “not credible.” But the board never heard the case; questioned witnesses or the priests involved, conducted an investigation, or rendered any ruling whatsoever. Apparently, a fellow religious order official on the board, Capuchin Mark Carrico, told the Sacred Heart Order in an email in February that the board needed more information to render a decision. Yet, in Carrico’s email to Sacred Heart Provincial Tom Cassidy, Carrico writes that the abuse reports against the two priests--which nobody on the board directly even heard or read--were neither “credible or established.” In other words, Carrico was supplying a fellow Provincial the window dressing he needed to make the false presentation that Pitcavage and Lind had been fully investigated and cleared.

The Milwaukee Area Review Board was created by the catholic religious orders of Milwaukee to “advise” them when reports of sexual abuse are made against members of their order. But it is clear from today’s story that this is not how the board, in fact, operates. The very limited mission and scope of the board, which appears to have several sincere and professionally qualified members, has been seriously misrepresented and needs to be corrected, immediately.

Most alarmingly, however, is the fact that at least one priest reported for child sex abuse is living in Franklin and back in ministry, and a second is residing in Mississippi without anything remotely resembling an outside investigation or independent review.

Which begs the bigger question: what independent investigation and review is being conducted for religious order clerics--who are the majority of priests working and living in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee under Archbishop Jerome Listecki--who have reports of sexually abusing children?

Review board won't judge priests

By Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel

Aug. 17, 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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