Priest, mother share path of pain, anger — and abiding faith

By Annysa Johnson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 22, 2015

91-year-old Angie Roscioli hugs her son, Father Domenic Roscioli, during Mass at Festa Italiana on July 19. Angie Roscioli was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest when she was a child in Kenosha.

Lyons — They walked, mother and son, along a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.

Angie Roscioli had come with other Catholic women for a spiritual retreat led by the Rev. Domenic Roscioli on the infinite nature of God's love. During a lull, they broke away, just the two of them, to walk and talk for a while.

To this day, Angie cannot say why she chose that moment to tell him. Maybe, she says, the prayers of the day spoke to her. Or the lesson he was trying to impart: Nothing they could do, he told them, no experience in their lives could diminish God's love for them.

Whatever the reason, on that fall day 37 years ago, Angie told her son she had been sexually assaulted as a little girl by her parish priest.

"I can't remember what triggered me to tell him," she says, sitting at her kitchen table, wiping the tears from her blue eyes. "But somehow, I knew it was time."

Her son stood for a while in silence, devastated. Then, he wrapped his arms around her.

"When I asked her why she didn't tell me before I was ordained, she said she didn't want to stand in the way if God wanted me to be a priest," says Domenic Roscioli, who is nationally known for his work with Catholic women and with children who have cancer.

"That kind of faith just floored me," he says. "I thought, 'How can someone love God that much?' I don't know ifIcould love God that much."

A voice for her generation

At 91, Angie Roscioli is thought to be the oldest of the estimated 570 men and women who filed claims in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee bankruptcy.

She learned Saturday that she is among the survivors to be compensated in the $21 million settlement that will be part of the bankruptcy reorganization plan the church is scheduled to file on Monday.

But it has never been about the money, Angie says. She filed a claim, she says, as a show of support for the many others who had come forward, and to be a voice for the victims of her generation. She was inspired by the accounts of survivors she met at an informational meeting on the bankruptcy the first year after it was filed.

"When I heard some of those people, their stories, it broke my heart. It really did," she says.

Those stories, almost all of them filed under court seal, have been mostly muted in the bankruptcy, a nearly five-year legal battle whose focus, by law, has been primarily financial: How much money does the archdiocese have? How much should it have to spend to compensate victims? Is it even liable for the harm they endured?

Many abuse survivors feel the church, the judge, the lawyers and the media have lost sight of their individual stories with that focus on finances. Most remain silent. But the Rosciolis — mother and son — had grown increasingly frustrated by the duration and contentious nature of the bankruptcy, and so they decided to open up. News of the settlement has done little to temper their frustration.

"I actually think the bankruptcy has caused more pain — like pouring salt in the wounds," says Domenic Roscioli, who fills in at parishes around the 10-county archdiocese and serves as spiritual director for its Council of Catholic Women.

"You don't issue a call for healing and then pick them off ... like a sniper. And that's what the lawyers have been doing.

"It was like a false invitation to mercy."

The archdiocese has maintained throughout the bankruptcy that it was not liable for the abuse claims and had filed motions to dismiss them. However, it has agreed to compensate at least 330 survivors under the new reorganization plan. Archbishop Jerome Listecki and chief of staff Jerry Topczewski declined to be interviewed for this story. The church's attorneys do not speak publicly about the bankruptcy without the archdiocese's permission.

'It never goes away'

Angeline Cosentino grew up in an extended family in a mostly Italian neighborhood on Kenosha's west side. She can still tick off the names of the families up and down 23rd Ave.: Rufolo, Petrelli, Savaglio and others.

The family was well-to-do by neighborhood standards. Her father, Francisco "Frank" Cosentino served as treasurer of sorts for a criminal gang with ties to Al Capone that operated stills on farms across southeastern Wisconsin, according to the late bestselling author Andrew Tully's "Treasury Agent: the Inside Story," published in 1958. He would be murdered in 1941: two bullets to the head at his Twin Lakes riding stable, according to news accounts.

Frank often was absent from home — with his work, with other women. Care of the three girls — Angie, Lorraine and cousin Theresa, who moved in after her own mother died — fell to Angie's mother and grandparents.

The family worshipped at Holy Rosary of Pompeii Parish — later re-christened Mt. Carmel — just around the corner. Angie remembers how the late Father Oswald Krusing — so popular with parishioners that they once circled the church with sticks and metal pipes to bar the bishop from transferring him — used to stop by to check on her family.

"That was his modus operandi," she says. "He'd stop by to talk to my grandma and grandpa, to see if they're OK, did they need anything," she recalls. "Then, one day, he asked if he could take me for a ride."

The first time Krusing touched her, when she was about 10, "is imprinted in my mind," she says. "It never goes away."

She recounts the story almost trance-like, as if she can see it in her mind's eye. It was about 1934. Krusing, she says, took her to what was then St. Catherine's Hospital, where court records show he also was assigned at the time.

"He took me to the top floor — I think it was the top floor. We were walking toward the lake, toward the east. The sun was shining through this big window. I had little black shoes and socks and a summer dress on. He's holding my hand.

"We went into this room where there was a bed, a regular hospital bed. He picked me up and laid me down on the bed. He covered my eyes with one hand, and he pulled up my dress."

When he was finished, says Roscioli, "he put me in the car, brought me back to the church, and I walked home through the alley."

Krusing's touching escalated to rape, she says. It went on for two years or more, even after he left the parish.

When she speaks about it, Roscioli's voice takes on a childlike quality, as if she is reliving that moment. On occasion, she cries. Now and then, she squints her eyes, trying to visualize where her father was as this was unfolding, incredulous that this could have happened to her.

"How could my mother send me with him, if my dad was around?" she says. "He would have killed the guy. He would have. Or he would have had someone else do it."

Angie was a daddy's girl. She'd accompany him almost daily to the riding stables where she had her own horse. Nights when Frank would come home late, she'd get out of bed, crawl into his lap and cry.

"He'd say to my mother, 'Why is this child always crying?' And she'd say, 'She misses you.'"

Angie tried to tell her mother that she didn't want to go with Krusing. "He touches me. ... He kisses me," she told her.

"She'd say, 'That's because he loves you.'"

"I don't know what he did to charm my mother and grandmother. I don't know what it was," says Roscioli, who never felt she could refuse to go.

"I was a child. We were taught to respect the priest. They were harmless, right?"

'Confidence misplaced'

If one thing is clear from Krusing's 70 years in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, it's that he seldom stayed at any church for very long. Ordained in 1926, he served in five parishes before landing at Holy Rosary in September 1930.

The first documented concern, according to court records, dates to January 1934, when the priest at his previous post wrote a letter to Archbishop Samuel Stritch saying, "The realization of confidence misplaced in Father Krusing is a severe blow."

The first complaint to explicitly mention sexual abuse of a child appears in 1947. Several more would surface over the years, including a letter suggesting that Krusing has "taken liberties" with as many as 20 girls between the ages of 12 and 19.

Krusing, who was sent twice over the years to a Trappist monastery, and then a psychiatric hospital, had a preoccupation with sex and publicly demeaned women and girls, according to court records.


He suggested that schoolgirls as young as 9 were "filthy, messy beings, and left them with the impression their sole purpose for existence is the satisfaction of the male," according to one complaint filed with Archbishop Albert Meyer in 1955.

Krusing retired in 1970. In his later years, he lived at the Cousins Center in St. Francis, the now-defunct high school seminary that houses the archdiocese's headquarters. In those days, Domenic Roscioli would see Krusing walking along S. Lake Drive and seethe, knowing what he had done to his mother.

"I wanted to confront him, but I was afraid I'd beat him to a pulp or kill him," he says. "Then, I thought, 'I'll go to jail. My mother is in her own jail, and he'll win.'"

Archbishop Rembert Weakland restricted the old priest's faculties for the first time in 1995, five months before Krusing's death at the age of 96.

Protective of daughter

Angie Roscioli had carried her secret for decades, silenced by fear and shame. In time, all of her children would know. She could never bring herself to tell her husband of 42 years. Larry had come home from war with his own heartaches, and she didn't want to add to those.

He could never understand why she cried sometimes when they made love.

"I tried to set it aside," she said. "But I always had a sense of guilt."

Angie and Larry would go on to have four children — "Just what I ordered," she likes to say. "I always wanted three boys and one girl," so her daughter would always have people protecting her.

They raised them in the faith, sent them to Catholic schools. Her sons served as altar servers. She watched her daughter obsessively.

"I made sure I knew where she was at all times."

Domenic was the most devout of her children. He liked to make believe he was a priest at home. The kids would line up, and he'd serve them communion.

"Corpus Christi," he'd say, as he lifted a wafer of Wonder Bread to their tongues. And they would answer, "Amen."

Angie could see, even then, where he was headed.

"I thought to myself: 'Maybe it's meant to be. Maybe it will be healing for me,'" says Angie. "I thought, 'Well, if he's going to be a priest, he's going to be a good priest.'"

Finding a new calling

Angie's struggles lay mostly dormant over the next 20 years. Domenic was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1985 and moved home to Kenosha, where he and his then-widowed mother could look after each other.

The neighborhood had changed much since his childhood. And he began working with others to rid the area of drug gangs, porn shops and slumlords.

"Cancer was the biggest blessing of my life," says the priest, who leads parish missions and retreats around the country. "It catapulted me into community organizing and working with children and their parents."

Since 1989, Father Domenic has volunteered at the late actor Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for children with cancer in Connecticut. And he founded Holy Spirits, a wine and specialty foods business, modeled on the Newman's Own philanthropic philosophy, that benefits one of the camp's sister organizations.

Angie's is a familiar face at the camp, where she is the oldest person to soar overhead on its zip line — besting Newman himself by a decade or more.

In 2002, news of the church's efforts to cover up sexual abuse of children erupted in Boston and began to spread across the country. The harm has rippled through the church, tainting even good priests who, for some, would always be suspect.

The year of the Boston scandal, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops imposed new guidelines for interacting with minors. The gravity of the changes struck Roscioli while he was volunteering at the camp.

He had been asked to accompany a sick child to the hospital, where he would have been expected to stay in the child's room overnight. He had done it before. He was trusted. But Domenic begged off, pretending to be ill. He knew he could never comfort a child in that way again.

"It casts a shadow on all of the priests, and it alters your work with children for the rest of your life," he says.

From shame to anger

Dozens of stories would emerge in Milwaukee recounting abuse by priests and efforts by the church to shield them.

With his mother's permission, Domenic reported her story in 2004 to Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba, now retired, who helped handle the archdiocese's sexual abuse cases. His response, according to Domenic: Oh, no, not another one.

The archdiocese offered counseling, which Angie attended for two sessions before declaring them "a waste of time."

Over the years, Angie's shame turned to anger as she came to understand how widespread the abuse had been and that the church often shielded perpetrators.

Today, Angie is ambivalent about accepting the church's money as part of the settlement agreement.

"If I accept it, does that mean I'm forgiving everything?"

She says she will keep only enough to cover her burial costs and give the rest to her children or to charity.

"It's not going to do anything to heal me."

A measure of peace

Angie Roscioli had lived most of her life on a two-block stretch of 23rd Ave. in Kenosha. Earlier this year, she moved with Domenic to the rectory at St. Joseph Parish in Lyons in Walworth County. A fresh start in a new town devoid of painful memories.

Domenic drives her back to Kenosha every Friday, where she volunteers with the Heroes Cafe, serving coffee and sweet rolls to veterans in the break room at Festival Foods.

It's quieter in Lyons, maybe a little lonelier. But the move has been good, says Domenic.

"For the first time for as long as I can remember, when we're driving around, she doesn't say, 'He took me here, too.' There's nothing in Lyons that reminds her of the pain."

Every morning, Angie unlocks the door that separates the rectory from the church at St. Joseph's Parish and wends her way through the sacristy.

She hesitates at the altar, where she makes the sign of the cross, before settling in the second pew. She pulls out her rosary and in the silence of the empty church begins to pray.

Angie's faith has never wavered. If anything, her pain has given her a deeper understanding of the suffering of Christ and the frailties of man.

Her confidence in the temporal church, in the people who have led it over the years, has been shaken. But her sense of the divine has not.

"I wasn't blaming God for any of this. This was human behavior," she says.

"You can't blame God for the faults of his people."




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