Catholic Diocese Puts Baraboo Priest on Paid Leave First Edition
Diocese Ends Baraboo Priest's Role As Pastor Second Edition
By William R. Wineke
Wisconsin State Journal
February 16, 2004
The Madison Catholic Diocese has placed an embattled Baraboo priest, the Rev. Gerald Vosen, on paid administrative leave, effectively ending his role as pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Baraboo.
Bishop Robert Morlino said Sunday the action followed a five-month investigation of reports that Vosen, 69, sexually molested at least three people decades ago.
Morlino said the allegations of at least one of the "alleged victims are credible enough" to the diocesan Sexual Abuse Review Board to make the suspension necessary. The case will now be referred to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for further action.
Vosen has denied each of the allegations and Morlino said one reason the case has taken so long to get to this point is that he wanted to investigate points the priest made in his own defense.
Morlino also warned that his decision to put Vosen on leave "should in no way be construed as a judgment of guilt concerning the allegation. But rather it is intended to protect the rights and reputations of all involved."
At the same time, the bishop noted that the recommendation to put Vosen on leave and refer the matter to Rome was a unanimous conclusion of the diocesan review board, a group led by retired Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Roland Day that investigates issues of sexual abuse.
Vosen's case has been controversial from the beginning. It gained public attention when a Sun Prairie woman told a state legislative committee that Vosen had abused her brother years ago. The brother has since denied any such abuse.
But by that time, Vosen had been put on unofficial leave and left his parish in Baraboo to take up residence at the Bishop O'Connor Pastoral Center while Morlino and the diocesan sexual abuse committee looked into the case.
People in Baraboo, including some of Vosen's staff and even some Protestant clergy, demonstrated in December, demanding the bishop reinstate Vosen.
In his statement Sunday, Morlino for the first time spoke of the other two allegations.
He sent Monsignor Paul Swain, vicar general -- or second-in-command -- of the diocese, to Baraboo over the weekend to inform the congregation of his decision.
The bishop's decision may prove unpopular. At least one Baraboo resident, Jack Meegan, who has been a vociferous supporter of Vosen, says he is unsatisfied.
"What a great way to end a wonderful priest's career," Meegan said in an e-mail that was highly critical of Morlino.
Vosen is nearly 70 and has been considering going into retirement, Swain said.
Morlino said he has appointed the Rev. Larry Bakke, chaplain at University Hospital in Madison, to be administrator of St. Joseph's Church. "He is a good and caring priest and will serve you well," the bishop said.
He also said he will travel to Baraboo on Feb. 25 -- Ash Wednesday -- "to spend a day of prayer and healing with you. This will include two masses with the distribution of ashes and the opportunity for discussion and prayer."
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