3 Parishes Try to Absorb Accounts of Priest's Abuse

By Mike Nichols
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
April 28, 2002

Until now, we could tell ourselves, the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has been mostly about Boston. Or New York. Or, maybe, Milwaukee.

When my colleague Jim Stingl wrote a column last Sunday about a 70-year-old one-time member of a church in Milwaukee who says he was abused in the 1940s by a priest named Edmund Haen, it appeared to be about a parish on the south side.

But St. Lawrence, near Layton Blvd. and Greenfield Ave., it turns out, is only where Haen started his priesthood.

He spent most of his time right here.

He was a priest for a total of 43 years at St. James in Mequon, St. Kilian in Hartford and St. Frances Cabrini in West Bend. There could not be many priests who have had more to do with the lives of more Catholics in these two counties than Edmund Haen.

I attended the 11 a.m. Mass at St. James last Sunday. Most people, I suspect, knew nothing at that point about what had been in the Journal Sentinel.

Many were probably confused when, during the homily, mention was made of the "hurt, shock, sadness" and "stress" that had arrived along with the paper. People are still, no doubt, trying to digest it. Or, as Parish Council Chairman Rick Eckart said later in the week, "absorb" it.

Much to absorb

This is a scandal about victims, and every time another one works up the courage to tell his story, there is a possibility there are more to come.

You wish there was some way to break up the sentences so that anyone who has to read this for the first time didn't have to digest it all at once. Haen's victim, a man by the name of John Maurice who himself went on to become a priest -- and eventually reversed course and left the Catholic Church altogether -- says he was sodomized and molested by Haen over 100 times.

Maurice said some of the abuse happened at a farmhouse that Haen's family owned in Sheboygan County, just up the road. Others -- from St. Lawrence if that makes anyone feel better -- say they were victimized as well.

It shouldn't make anyone feel better.

If you didn't believe already that this is a pervasive, systemic problem in the Catholic Church, you have to believe it now.

There was talk already of forgiveness at St. James last Sunday. Forgiveness, typically, comes after an apology. John Maurice -- despite the fact Haen himself acknowledged "unacceptable behavior" when confronted by a bishop before he died -- says he never got one.


Forgiveness is an ideal many hope they are capable of at some point. It is, however, a little difficult to focus on forgiveness at the same immediate moment you are trying to remember whether your child, even one who is grown now, was ever alone with the guy. First things first.

A spokesman for the archdiocese has indicated this was not one of those cases where church leaders covered up or transferred a priest, a criminal, from place to place. Still, it's about a lot more than one man's immoral proclivities.

There was been a lot of conjecture about what percentage of priests are involved, and I keep reading that it might not be any more than in most walks of life. I don't know if that is true, given how many places so familiar to me have had to deal with the problem. I also, however, don't know that it matters.

These are priests, not accountants or plumbers or professional athletes. They are supposed to represent what is good and blessed. Catholics are called not just to rely upon them, but to support them -- and in some very basic ways. Buildings, rectories and churches aren't built with prayers. They are built with donations.

People wonder what they are contributing to.

Most Catholics say this is not an issue of faith. Even in Boston, over 90% say their faith has not been lessened, according to a recent Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll.

At the same time, faithful as they may be, a majority of Boston-area Catholics -- 53% -- say they have lost confidence in the Church as an institution. About a third give less money. One out of five goes to church less frequently.

Most keep the faith; but many just don't think they can express it in the same way -- or, perhaps, the same place -- as before.

Some stay in the pews, perhaps, because they have been graced with a clear and unfettered connection to God. Others stay because they grew up in them, or because they hope that things will change, that the culture that protected and attracted these men will be fundamentally transformed.

Catholics are disgusted but also see this as a chance for a new day.

The real upheaval, one suspects, will come if they find out down the road -- and not very far down the road -- that that chance has been squandered.

This is not just about Boston.

It never was.


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