Priest to Fight Diocese over Sex Abuse Case

By Elizabeth Putnam
Wausau Daily Herald [Wausau WI]
September 18, 2004

An elderly priest plans to challenge a decision made last month by the Diocese of La Crosse that bars him from performing Roman Catholic rites because he had sexually abused a girl more than 30 years ago.

The priest, the Rev. Raymond H. Bornbach, 89, of Marshfield must appeal his case to the Vatican, according to canon, or church, law. Bornbach was barred from performing any priestly duties in mid-August after the La Crosse diocese substantiated a claim by Brenda Varga, 42, of Plover, who had accused Bornbach in 2003 of molesting her repeatedly in 1971. Bornbach was then a priest at St. Michael's Church in Hewitt.

Attorney J. David Rice, who represents Bornbach, said the priest will hire a lawyer who specializes in canon law to help him with the appeal.

"It's our belief that this is a he-said, she-said case," Rice said. "It has to be beyond a reasonable doubt. (Varga) wouldn't win a case like this in the court of law."

The Rev. Larry Dunklee, director of the diocesan office of clergy, said he was not aware of an appeal, and that if Bornbach did appeal, the Vatican would play a role in any decision.

A diocese is required to provide the Vatican with every case involving the dismissal of a priest. The Vatican can choose a number of ways to review the claim, including forming a church court or taking the matter directly to Pope John Paul II, said Barbara Anne Cusack, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Varga said Thursday that she was "shocked" that Bornbach would appeal the decision but that she still wants to talk to him in person.

Varga also said she has received some phone calls and letters from people who claim they, too, were sexually abused by Bornbach.

"What surprises me is his stubbornness. His church belief is to be honest and truthful," Varga said.

The La Crosse diocese's sexual abuse policy calls for abusive priests to be removed permanently from the ministry and prohibited from celebrating Mass in public, wearing clerical garb or presenting themselves in public as priests.

Bornbach, who is retired, has stopped ministering to patients at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield.

Sharon Kostroski, vice president of quality and safety at Saint Joseph's Hospital, said the hospital has received a report from the diocese that says Bornbach may no longer visit patients wearing clerical garb. The hospital also has removed Bornbach from its list of visiting clergy, Kostroski said.


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