Four pedophile ex-priests had their professional licenses granted under Gov. Scott Walker's administration

By Daniel Bice
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
November 02, 2018

Gov. Scott Walker's campaign has spent the past year accusing Democratic foe Tony Evers of putting children in danger by not stripping the licenses of teachers found guilty of improper and immoral acts.

But it turns out that the second-term Republican governor's administration has its own serious lapse involving the professional licenses of individuals of highly questionable character.

Records show one of Walker's agencies — the state Department of Safety and Professional Services — either gave licenses to or renewed the licenses of four ex-priests who were defrocked for sexually abusing children. 

The four former pedophile priests from the Milwaukee Archdiocese were given state approval to practice such professions as social work, nursing, alcohol and drug counseling and funeral work. All four appear on the archdiocese's list of former Milwaukee priests with a "substantiated case of sexual abuse of a minor."

After learning of the issue this week, Walker moved to strip the four of their state credentials.

"The governor believes they should lose their licenses," said Walker spokesman Tom Evenson.

In 2012, two of the ex-priests had complaints lodged against them over the accusations that forced them from their ministry. But state officials dismissed both complaints.

One of the pedophile ex-priests was hired by the state Department of Corrections more than a decade ago under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and continued to work there as a $50,000-per-year substance abuse counselor until last year. That former associate pastor, who served five Milwaukee-area parishes over 22 years, was found to have molested two girls, ages 9 and 12, while binding the hands and feet of one of them. He claimed they were engaged in a "form of play." 

Peter Isely, founding member of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or SNAP, noted that Walker was highly critical during the primary of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matthew Flynn for his role in cases involving abusive priests.

Isely urged the governor to call for an investigation to determine how these laicized Catholic priests were able to secure state approval to enter these various professions.

"(Walker) needs to put actions behind his firm and clear words during the primary, along with his vocal support for survivors and our families," Isely said.

But Evenson made it clear that Walker will pursue a regulatory response.  

He said officials at the state licensing agency have initiated complaints against the four pedophile ex-priests. They were sent letters this week informing them of this action and stating that they can voluntarily surrender their licenses to avoid investigation by state regulators.

"Ultimately, that decision is left up to the boards that are legally charged with overseeing them," Evenson said. The governor appoints the members of those boards as well as the top officials at the Safety and Professional Services Department.

But the Republican governor's campaign — locked in an extremely tight race with Evers — pushed back by suggesting that the state schools chief had himself erred by not revoking the teaching licenses of four defrocked priests in recent years.

But three of those former priests, whose names appear on the Milwaukee Archdiocese's list of disgraced ministers, had their counseling and teaching licenses expire before Evers was elected state schools superintendent.

Two of them lapsed in the 1970s and the third in 2005, four years before Evers took office.

The fourth, Jesus Garza, had a school counseling license that expired in 2017. It appears, based on GOP records, that Garza worked in Chicago while living in Wisconsin. He resigned as a priest in 2005 after the Archdiocese of Chicago found "reasonable cause" that he sexually assaulted a 14-year-old boy.

Walker's campaign also supplied details for five other cases in which school officials were charged with sexually assaulting children. In all five cases, the staffers' licenses have expired or were voluntarily surrendered. 

"Tony Evers had sole legal authority to protect children by revoking licenses," said Brian Reisinger, spokesman for Walker. "Yet, again and again, he did not — Evers didn’t do his job and doesn’t deserve a promotion.”

The Journal Sentinel has written on a handful of cases in which teachers got to keep their licenses under Evers despite troubled pasts. For instance, the state renewed the license of a teacher at Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution even though she was convicted of a felony in 2011 for having sex with a 22-year-old inmate. 

But that case and others illustrate just how narrow the definition of "immoral conduct" was at the time. Walker and Evers worked together to broaden that statute so it would be used in cases such as the one involving the Kettle Moraine teacher. 

Scot Ross, head of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, criticized Walker's campaign for spending so much time ripping Evers over teacher licenses.

"We now know why Scott Walker and his allies spent millions of dollars lying about Tony Evers," Ross said. "Scott Walker was responsible for pedophiles getting licenses for the last eight years, and Scott Walker had to hope no one found out before the election."

Most notable among the cases of the four predophile ex-priests is that of Daniel Massie, who led congregations in Menomonee Falls, Milwaukee and West Allis between 1980 and 2002. 

Church officials contacted Germantown police after Massie was accused of molesting two girls and binding one of them. He reached a five-year deferred prosecution agreement in which he could not have unsupervised contact with children. 

A commission reviewed his case in 2002 and asked that he submit his resignation from office. He was removed from the priesthood seven years later, and the archdiocese provided him a severance package, the terms of which have not been disclosed. 

While his resignation was pending, Massie received state licenses to be a substance abuse counselor, an advance practice social worker and an independent clinical supervisor. 

In 2006, under Doyle, the state Department of Corrections hired Massie as a social worker and substance abuse counselor, paying him $49,150 a year. He stepped down in February 2017. 

Reached this week, Massie declined to discuss his work for the state and the archdiocese. 

The other three ex-priests granted licenses are:

Michael Nowak

He led parishes in Wauwatosa and Kenosha between 1997 and 2011. The Milwaukee Archdiocese doesn't provide details of his case, but a Catholic Herald story said he was under investigation in 2011 for having sexually explicit conversations with a girl. A former nurse, Nowak was granted a partial license to be a registered nurse in 2012 and a full license a year later. He did not return phone calls this week. 

James Godin

He worked in six Milwaukee-area churches over 23 years. The abuse victim and the archdiocese did not post details of Godin's case because they believed that would lead the identification of the survivor. 

In 2011, the state gave Godin a license to be an advanced practice social worker. He had worked at Health Care for the Homeless and lists his current occupation as associate director of development at SET Ministry, an anti-poverty nonprofit in Milwaukee. Calls to the agency were not returned. 

Interestingly, Godin gave a total of $500 to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Democratic candidate Mary Burke in their unsuccessful bids to defeat Walker.

Jerome Wagner

He is a former priest with a long history of inappropriate sexual behavior with minors during his 30 years in the ministry. 

Wagner confessed repeatedly to supplying boys with alcohol "with sexual intent." On one occasion, he was accused of making sexual advances to a 15-year-old boy in the rectory of St. Jerome Church in Oconomowoc in the 1980s.

The lengthy record of his abuse of minors on the Milwaukee Archdiocese website says Wagner's attorney was able to work out deals with investigators that kept the pastor from criminal prosecution. He was eventually moved to a Fond du Lac parish. 

Then-Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan asked Wagner to resign from pastoral ministry in 2002; Wagner's attorney suggested he would do so for $400,000. In 2007, he was laicized by Pope Benedict XVI. He was paid $20,000 to aid with his exit. 

Wagner is now a licensed funeral director at Zacherl Funeral Home in Fond du Lac. 

On Thursday, speaking from Arizona, Wagner would not discuss his state license.

"I'm going to pass with any comment on that," Wagner said.



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