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Judge Calls On Church To Explain Settlement

Priest, Man Who Alleges He Was Abused Years Ago Are Suing One Another

Jan 7, 2003 | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Over attorneys' objections, a judge Tuesday ordered that the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese be called upon to help settle dueling lawsuits filed by a retired Catholic priest and a man who says the priest sexually abused him.

Waukesha County Circuit Judge J. Mac Davis told both sides that the archdiocese may need to explain the terms of a 1990 secret settlement of a sexual abuse complaint by John Ramstack against Father David Hanser of Merton.

Neither Ramstack of Elm Grove nor Hanser wants the archdiocese to be part of the litigation.

But Davis said the archdiocese was a necessary party because it signed the settlement contract in 1990 with Hanser, Ramstack and Ramstack's wife, Patrice.

Davis' order means that the archdiocese may be dragged into picking sides at a time when it is trying to mend fences with victims of clergy abuse.

And it may have to defend a secrecy gag order that the archdiocese now says it will not enforce for other victims who went public with their stories last year, despite promising in earlier settlements that they would remain silent.

Archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said Tuesday that the archdiocese will cooperate with Davis' request.

"We're glad to cooperate and come in to the extent the judge has asked us to be involved," he said. "We haven't seen the pleadings, so it's hard for us to say anything more than that."

Contract breach alleged
John and Patrice Ramstack sued Hanser in November in Waukesha County Circuit Court, alleging that Hanser breached the 1990 settlement by continuing to work near children.

John Ramstack and three of his brothers told the archdiocese in 1988 that Hanser had molested them years ago at his cottage on Moose Lake in the Town of Merton.

Archdiocesan officials removed Hanser as pastor of a Waukesha County church and later assigned him to serve in various hospitals, where the Ramstacks say Hanser was near children.

Hanser worked as a chaplain at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center and also was on call at three other hospitals.

The archdiocese said that it informed hospital directors about Hanser's past and established adequate controls to ensure that he had no access to children.

Nonetheless, the Ramstacks said they complained to the archdiocese about the hospital assignment, but their complaint went unanswered. John Ramstack said that he first learned from a reporter early last year that Hanser was still working at hospitals.

In an April interview, the family spoke out against Hanser and the archdiocese.

Hanser retired from his hospital work last spring, and the archdiocese later ordered him to abandon any active ministry.

John and Patrice Ramstack sued Hanser in November.

Hanser later filed a countersuit against the couple, saying they breached the same 1990 settlement by going public with their story and by suing him.

Through his attorney, John Schiro, Hanser has asked Judge Davis to order the Ramstacks to return the $65,000 they received in the settlement. Schiro pointed to a provision in the settlement that states that if the Ramstacks violate the secrecy order, they can be sued for the money's return.

"Didn't the archdiocese pay the money?" Davis asked.

"No," Schiro said.

Davis said he wanted to hear from the archdiocese about who had paid the $65,000.

Topczewski said Tuesday that the records were not immediately available but that he believed Hanser paid all or "the bulk" of the $65,000.

Schiro said that Hanser did not breach the contract or have contact or access to children at area hospitals.

But Schiro said that even if Hanser did, the contract says that any complaints about Hanser's alleged involvement with children can be made only to the archdiocese.

But the Ramstacks' attorney, Timothy Clark, said that the contract does not preclude the Ramstacks from suing Hanser personally for accepting an assignment that could put him near children.

"At the end of the day, David Hanser made a promise" to stay away from children, Clark said. "He breached that promise."

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