Church Here Rebuffed Sex Reports
Diocese Insisted on Silence in Settlements
By Pat Schneider
April 25, 2002
Officials of the Madison Diocese today say priests who sexually abuse minors should face criminal charges, but failed to alert authorities and silenced victims of such abuses in the past.
Charges of pedophilia by a Madison priest grabbed headlines in 1994 and 1995 when Father Michael Trainor was accused in a series of lawsuits of molesting more than a dozen boys from 1974 through 1982 while serving at St. Maria Goretti parish in Madison, St. Henry parish in Watertown and St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Madison.
Trainor's victims were as young as 9 years old, according to records in Dane County Circuit Court. The sexual contact occurred in a variety of places, including a church, rectories where Trainor lived and the homes of the boys.
The late Bishop Cletus O'Donnell fired Trainor in 1984, after parents of two boys Trainor had molested told him about the abuse.
The mother of one of Trainor's victims said she alerted a school principal of her suspicions about Trainor's frequent outings with a number of boys in 1983, but her concerns were dismissed, according to court records.
In explaining why she didn't press the issue, she said: "You trust without knowing."
One parent said O'Donnell rebuffed an offer to provide the names of other boys who might have been abused by Trainor, saying he could do nothing for the boys unless each one of them came to him individually, according to deposition transcripts.
Lawsuits seeking damages for the sexual abuse were not filed until years later because the victims did not realize the extent of the harm done to them by a powerful figure in their lives, their legal pleadings state.
Some of the suits were dismissed after court rulings that the statute of limitations had expired; others were settled out of court.
The Madison Diocese has required a number of victims to remain silent as a condition of settling legal claims. Milwaukee church critic Patty Gallagher Marchant, for example, cannot name the priest who abused her as a girl in Madison under the terms of the pre-litigation settlement she reached with the diocese.
Rev. Paul Swain, the diocesan vicar general and an attorney by training, said diocese lawyers involved at the time might be asked to explain the silence requirement.
He attributed the greater willingness today of families to report sexual abusers to police to a better understanding of the disorder of pedophilia.
"There was a time when there was a view that it was a sinful action, but somebody could be changed from that. Now there is a recognition through psychology, and some errors in the more severe cases, that someone cannot be changed and should not be in a position to continue this terrible predilection," he said.
While a prosecutor's focus is primarily on cases for which the statute of limitations has not run out and criminal charges still are possible, said Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard, there is a public interest in learning who the offenders have been.
"There are perpetrators who perpetrate repeatedly," he said Wednesday. "They may be in danger of doing it again. And we as a community have a need to understand what happened in the past."
Marchant said the diocese should name the priests who have abused children "for the community to heal."
"A public airing helps all the victims and their families to heal and would rebuild trust. Right now there is a lot of skepticism with the Catholic Church because of the massive cover-up," she said.
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