Alleged Victim Defends Priest
The Man's Sister Accused the Baraboo Priest, but His Supporters Describe Him As a Good Man

By Richard W. Jaeger
Wisconsin State Journal
September 24, 2003

A Madison man whose sister accused a Baraboo priest of sexually abusing him some 26 years ago, Tuesday denied the allegations and expressed disbelief that his sister would make such charges.

"I don't know where she would come up with this and why," said James Dresang when he found out that his sister, Karen Dresang Nelson of Sun Prairie, was the woman who had accused the Rev. Gerald Vosen of sexual misconduct.

Nelson made the allegations against Vosen Thursday at a legislative hearing in the state Capitol on legislation dealing with clergy abuse.

She made the complaint official Tuesday morning when she contacted the Madison Catholic Diocese to file a formal complaint against Vosen, 69, pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Baraboo. She claimed she had witnessed the alleged assault on her brother at a cabin Vosen had on Lake Wisconsin. She said her brother was 14 at the time.

Nelson refused to comment further on her allegations Tuesday afternoon when contacted at her home. She earlier told a reporter from the Baraboo News Republic that she was not comfortable with talking about the alleged abuse because she had not talked to her brother.

Dresang said he came forward "because I feel these are very serious accusations against Father Vosen that are not true and he should not be put through this."

Dresang said he considered Vosen a very good friend and had gone fishing with him many times as a teenager, along with other teens who attended St. Dennis Catholic School. He said his sister, Nelson, had never gone with him to Vosen's cabin.

"She asked me about him (Vosen) and if he had ever done anything to me. I told her no way. That is why I can't understand why she would say such a thing."

Dresang's mother also said she was bewildered about why her daughter would make such an accusation.

Marian Dresang, tearfully wrung her hands Tuesday afternoon as she sat in her East Side home and talked about the accusations. "I can't understand why she would do such a thing. I just don't know what made her do it," Marian Dresang said. She said she has been estranged from her daughter, the youngest of six children.

"Father Vosen is a wonderful man and priest. He was like a father to many young people in our church. He was always standing up for them and teaching them," she said, shaking her head in disbelief.

Vosen was placed on leave from his parish during the weekend and is now living in the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Center in Madison.

Bill Brophy, spokesman for the diocese, said that Nelson's allegations will be passed on to the Diocese's Sexual Abuse Review Board for investigation. Brophy said the allegations against Vosen, 69, will have to be substantiated as being credible before any action is taken against the priest who was ordained in 1961. He noted that Vosen was not on administrative leave.

"This is a very unusual situation because the accusation was made at a public hearing so he was placed on leave." He said he did not know a time frame on the review board's involvement.

Vosen, who grew up in Merrimac and Sauk County, has denied abusing any young person. He was not available Tuesday to comment further now that the name of his accuser has been made known and details of the allegations have been made public.

His supporters, however, have spoken out. Many of his parishioners in Baraboo have signed petitions of support and they held a prayer meeting Monday night to show their support.

Others who have associated with Vosen during their younger years have also expressed shock and given support to the long-time priest.

Kevin Rau, of Oshkosh, wrote: "During the initial five years of our friendship, I estimate the number of times I visited Father Vosen's cottage to be between 40 and 60 with lengths of stay varying between 2 and 5 days. More often, there were a handful of other children along. ...

"As an adult the memories of my interaction with him stand as a shining example of an ideal mentoring relationship and serve as a constant guide as my wife and I raise our three children. ... To me this particular allegation represents the ultimate injustice. I, along with countless people whose lives have been enriched through knowing Father Vosen, pray that the matter comes to a rapid conclusion and confirms the innocence of a truly great man and good friend," Rau said.


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