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With Mediator, Priest and Accuser Resolve Abuse Lawsuit

Mar 9, 2003 | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Although the Milwaukee Archdiocese won't allow lawyers to participate in mediation sessions with sexual abuse victims, such an arrangement has worked to resolve a lawsuit involving a Waukesha County priest.

Father David Hanser of Merton has settled a lawsuit brought against him by alleged sex abuse victim John Ramstack after a face-to-face mediation session Jan. 30 attended by each side's attorney.

"This settlement was reached as a result of mediation, where the parties were able to reach an accommodation that allowed them to move forward with their lives in a way that can lead to healing and redemption," attorneys John Schiro and Timothy Clark said in a joint statement.

While exact amounts were not disclosed, Hanser will pay thousands of dollars to the Ramstacks and to the Child Abuse Prevention Fund, said Clark, the Ramstacks' attorney.

The priest also will drop his attempt to recoup $65,000 he paid to the Ramstacks in 1990 after John Ramstack and three of his brothers notified the archdiocese about Hanser's alleged abuse.

In 1988, the Ramstacks told the archdiocese that Hanser had molested them in the late 1960s and early 1970s at Hanser's Merton lake cottage when Hanser was at Catholic Memorial High School and St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Brookfield.

The 1990 agreement said that Hanser would not work or volunteer near children and that the Ramstacks would keep the matter confidential.

But John and Patrice Ramstack, of Elm Grove, sued Hanser last year for breach of contract when they learned he had been working as a chaplain in area hospitals where he was near children. Hanser countersued, saying the Ramstacks broke the contract by publicly accusing him of abuse.

The Ramstacks did not sue the archdiocese. But because the church signed the 1990 agreement with the couple and Hanser, Waukesha County Circuit Judge J. Mac Davis ordered in January that the archdiocese be brought into the lawsuit.

The archdiocese did not participate in the mediation or the settlement.

Peter Isley, Milwaukee coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Friday that the case shows that mediation overseen by attorneys can provide healing and restitution.

Isley said it was "outrageous" that the archdiocese will not allow attorneys to attend mediation. Victims without attorneys are more likely to accept little or no money through mediation, he said.

The Ramstacks sued Hanser months after their family's story was chronicled in the Journal Sentinel. John Ramstack, 45, and his brothers said they felt betrayed when they learned Hanser, 70, was working in hospitals near children.

After the Ramstacks went public, Hanser was among those priests who were banned from all active ministry. In the past year, eight other men have come forward, saying Hanser also abused them.

Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher said that while he believed that the results of a sheriff's investigation showed Hanser did abuse numerous boys, all of the cases were too old to prosecute.

Hanser did not return a call for comment on the settlement. His attorney also could not be reached, nor could John and Patrice Ramstack.

Clark said the Ramstacks received "a lot of peace and satisfaction out of this resolution."

He said John Ramstack lived with a sense of guilt ever since he signed the secrecy agreement.

"He almost felt that he had done something wrong in signing an agreement that had a secrecy clause because he could not warn other people," Clark said. "He was always afraid that something else would happen to somebody.

"There's a tremendous sense of sadness about all of the people affected by it. John feels sorry for David Hanser. He wishes no ill to the man. This is just a horrible thing."

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