Priest Denies 1970s Abuse Allegation, Diocese Restricts Duties

By Holly Meyer
April 14, 2013

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay has restricted a retired priest from performing public ministry after learning of an allegation of abuse against him.

The Rev. Justin N. Werner, 84, denied an accusation that he abused a minor at St. Edward Parish in Mackville during the 1970s, according to a statement from the diocese.

Justine Lodl, spokeswoman for the diocese, said the allegation has been reported to civil authorities, but would not say which law enforcement agency was handling it.

Calls made Saturday by Gannett Wisconsin Media to Brown and Outagamie county law enforcement agencies did not turn up a report. An Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department official said the report could have gone directly to the investigation division, which was not open Saturday.

Lodl said a private investigator also is reviewing the allegation. Werner will be restricted from public ministry pending the outcome of the review. Werner told Post-Crescent Media on Saturday that he did not have a comment and was not aware of the specifics of the allegations.

Werner said he stepped down as a priest in 2010, and according to a farewell letter from Werner to the St. Bernard Parish in Appleton, he served as a priest for at least 50 years, recently as a weekend assistant at the Appleton parish.

The diocese’s statement said it is providing pastoral assistance to both the person who lodged the allegation and Werner.

In March, the diocese agreed to pay $700,000 to settle a civil lawsuit brought by two brothers, Todd and Troy Merryfield, who were molested by the Rev. John Feeney in the 1970s when he was at St. Nicholas parish in Freedom.

The diocese also was ordered to pay $500,000 in November after being held liable in a Nevada civil lawsuit. A Las Vegas jury concluded the diocese was negligent in transferring Feeney to a Nevada parish, where he allegedly molested a 13-year-old boy.

Many older cases end up in civil court because statutes of limitations prevent old cases from being tried in criminal courts.



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