Catholics Urged to Keep Faith in Church

By Paul Srubas
Oshkosh Northwestern
September 18, 2002

A priest and a former priest from the Green Bay Catholic Diocese have been added to the list of those facing allegations of sexual abuse of minors, but local Catholics still should have faith in the quality of the church here, Bishop Robert Banks said Tuesday.

"It's a good church, a healthy church," said Banks, citing the thousands of youngsters educated in the diocese's schools, the thousands of people involved in the diocese's charity efforts and the thousands attending Mass every week. "The good news makes me very hopeful."

But Banks had called a press conference to address news from over the weekend that a Manitowoc County pastor resigned over a 25-year-old accusation that he had sexual relations with a minor, and that a former area priest was arrested in Los Angeles to face charges of child sexual assault while he was pastor in Freedom in the 1970s.

"Obviously, it's a difficult time for our people, for our church, but we have to think of those who suffered because of abuse," Banks said.

His remarks concerned Rev. John Conrad, pastor of Immaculate Conception of Mary Catholic Church in Clarks Mills, and John Feeney, who had left the Green Bay diocese in 1983 and who is facing a criminal charge in Outagamie County Court over sexual abuse allegations against him.

Banks said he sympathizes with Conrad's parishioners, who have expressed support for the man who has worked in the Clarks Mills church since 1979.

Banks said he knows, likes and admires Conrad, who announced his resignation to parishioners Sunday.

"Father Conrad would be most welcome to come to my house and dine with me," Banks said. "I consider him to be a good man.

"However, right now, someone is suffering because of what happened. I can't overlook it. I don't think Father Conrad overlooks it."

Banks said that, even though he doesn't regard Conrad as a threat to the public, others could consider him so, and thus Conrad can no longer serve in public ministry. Without a parish, Conrad draws no salary but remains supported by the diocese and technically remains a priest, though he can't serve in any public capacity, Banks said.

He said he didn't know Feeney, who had served parishes in Oshkosh, Freedom, Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay and Suamico in his 31 years with the Green Bay diocese. However, a task force that Banks had appointed earlier this year to look at personnel files of priests and former priests found "hints and suggestions" of sexual abuse by Feeney, Banks said.

Feeney's personnel file also contained information indicating he was "hard to get along with," Banks said. That, and not suspicions of sexual misconduct, was probably why Feeney bounced from parish to parish, serving as many as 18 parishes in three decades, Banks said. However, Feeney has not been allowed to exercise public priestly ministry in the diocese since 1986, based on the decision of Banks' predecessor, Bishop Adam Maida.

When Banks started as head of the diocese in the early 1990s, Feeney contacted him and asked to be reinstated, and Banks refused, based on Maida's action, Banks said.

Two felony charges against Feeney in Outagamie County Court accuse him of attempting and of having sexual contact with a 12-year-old Freedom boy in the spring of 1978.

A third charge alleges he attempted sexual contact with the boy's 14-year-old brother during the same time.

The six-year statute of limitations doesn't enter into the allegations because the clock stopped while Feeney was living outside the state, according to an Outagamie County prosecutor.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.