Retired Priest's Computer Seized in Sheboygan County

By Marie Rohde
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
June 29, 2002

The Sheboygan County Sheriff's Department has confiscated a computer belonging to a 77- year-old retired priest who acknowledged abusing four youths in the 1960s, the sheriff said Friday.

Sheriff Loni Koenig said her department will examine the computer for child pornography. If child pornography is found, Father Donald Peters could be charged criminally.

Credible allegations have been made against at least 37 other priests in the 10-county Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese, archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said.

He said Peters voluntarily retired in 1993 after an anonymous complaint about sexual abuse of a minor was made through police. Peters denied the allegation but was told he no longer could work with minors. However, he since may have been helping out at parishes, Topczewski said.

Peters was told May 10 -- a little more than a week after an accuser contacted the church with the allegation -- that he can have no public ministry. The matter was referred to civil authorities on June 17.

The accuser who came forward is now 49. He was 16 when the alleged abuse took place. Koenig said the man had been in therapy and decided to come forward as part of his treatment. The man said he did not report the incident at the time because he thought no one would believe him and that his family would be ostracized, Koenig said.

The alleged abuse occurred in Peters' family home in Cascade, a community in the southwest part of the county where he lives.

Although the allegation is well outside the statute of limitations for prosecution of such crimes, the archdiocese decided in mid-May to begin reporting all new allegations to civil authorities, following the lead of dioceses in other parts of the country.

Koenig said Peters admitted the abuse of four teenage boys but did not recall all of their names, including that of the man who came forward. He also said that he had taken sexually suggestive pictures of the boys but destroyed those pictures some 15 years ago, according to Koenig.

"Based on previous investigations, we know that it is not uncommon for sexual abusers to put pictures on their computers or for them to possess child pornography," Koenig said. "That's why we decided to get a search warrant for his computer."

The retired priest said he has not had any sexual contact with children since 1967, Koenig said. He retired in 1993 after serving 40 years in five parishes.

Koenig said Peters served at St. Clement's in Sheboygan from 1950 to 1960 and again from 1977 to 1993, at St. Mary's in Hales Corners from 1960 to 1962, at St. Patrick's from 1962 to 1967 and again from 1969 to 1971, at Catholic Memorial High School from 1967 to 1969 and at St. Mary's in Sheboygan Falls from 1971 to 1977. Koenig said she hopes that if there are others alleging abuse, they will come forward.

The Fond du Lac Police Department has been asked to investigate the allegation that three other youths were abused while Koenig was at St. Patrick's, the sheriff said.

Peter Isely, a spokesman for a national group of survivors of sex abuse by clergy, applauded Sheboygan for its "appropriate and assertive response" in seizing Peters' computer.

"Sex offenders often lie about how many victims they have had," Isely said. "The district attorney's office here should follow the Sheboygan example with the many known sex offenders in the Milwaukee area."


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