Abuse Accusation 'Big Surprise' to Wittenberg

By Pat Peckham
Wausau Daily Herald
June 11, 2002


The Diocese of Green Bay is continuing to provide full wages and benefits, including housing, to the Rev. Michael Carroll, who was suspended Sunday from his duties at Catholic churches in Wittenberg, Tigerton and Marion. The Wausau Daily Herald incorrectly reported Monday and Tuesday that the diocese was not providing housing for Carroll, according to the Rev. Willard Van De Loo, vicar for priests in Green Bay. The Daily Herald regrets the error.

By Pat Peckham

Wausau Daily Herald

WITTENBERG - To many of the people who know him, the Rev. Michael Carroll is a good man who was stretched thin trying to serve three parishes.

To the surprise of Carroll's parishioners, the Diocese of Green Bay disclosed Sunday that an unidentified person had accused him of sexual abuse stemming from an incident more than 20 years ago. Carroll was suspended from his duties pending a church investigation.

Lindsey Thorson, 17, said she finished confirmation classes this spring and saw no sign that her priest was less than wholesome. She said others in the church handled most of the instruction, but Carroll made it a point to know each student's name when he led the class, just as he knew the names of all the adult church members. She hadn't heard of his suspension.

"That's a really big surprise," she said. "He wasn't the type you would think would do that."

Francis Berger, 86, is a regular worshiper at Holy Family-St. William Church in Wittenberg and lives less than a block to the north on EllmsStreet. Berger said he is not very involved in church affairs but is saddened by the continuing cases of misconduct by priests.

"Oh, boy, this is really getting to be something," Berger said. "I thought he was a good priest. That's all I can say. From what I've known of him here, he was the last person who would ever do anything like that."

Berger said the situation is more difficult to understand because two decades have passed since the date of the alleged abuse.

"Twenty years ago?" he said. "How are you going to prove anything and if a person is innocent, how are you going to get rid of that? I thought he was one heck of a nice person. He was one of the better priests."

Carroll assumed responsibility for the three parishes when his predecessor, the Rev. Claude Zabinski, died three years ago, said downtown barber Dan Tratz. Prior to that, Carroll served two Shawano County churches, St. Anthony Parish in Tigerton and St. Mary Parish in Marion.

Tratz, a Wittenberg-area barber for 42 years, said he's not a member of the parish and has encountered Carroll only at funerals but is disturbed by the idea that a sex abuse allegation against a priest has hit his community.

"We're hearing about it all the time," Tratz said. "It's a sad situation."

But he cautioned that people should not assume the allegation is true. And he worried that the misconduct charges will draw unwanted attention to Wittenberg.

"It doesn't do any community any good," he said. "What little I know of the guy, he's a fine man."

Nobody answered the door late Monday morning at the rectory next to the church. Two people who were in the rectory garage declined to be interviewed and said they did not know where Carroll had gone. As a condition of his suspension, the diocese will not provide his housing.

Diocesan officials said Sunday they will release more information today on the investigation into the allegations.

The Carroll file

The Rev. Michael Carroll, suspended Friday from his assignment serving Catholic churches in Wittenberg, Tigerton and Marion, grew up in Appleton, the last of seven children.

Now 57, he attended Sacred Heart Seminary in Oneida, then the St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. After his 1970 ordination in Appleton, he was appointed as an instructor and chaplain at Lourdes High School in Oshkosh. In 1976 he was made director of religious education and chaplain of Catholic Central High School in Marinette.

Carroll became the first full-time director of the youth program in the Green Bay Diocese in 1979 and duties as a part-time chaplain in the program were added in early 1982.

No details of assignments after that were available Monday from the Diocese of Green Bay.


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