Instead of finding inner peace from his relationship with the Catholic Church, Green Bay native David Schauer said he suffered a legacy of emotional trauma after was sexually abused by a priest.
In a civil lawsuit filed Wednesday in Brown County court, Schauer accused the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay of negligence and fraud for failing to protect him and other parishioners from a known child molester.
“The diocese knew that it was going on and they facilitated it,” Schauer said during a press conference held Wednesday.
The complaint accuses Father Donald Buzanowski of sexually abusing Schauer while Buzanowski served as a youth counselor for SS. Peter and Paul School in 1988. Naming the diocese as a co-defendant, the complaint alleges the church turned a blind eye to the abuse.
“The diocese misrepresented to the plaintiff, parents and parishioners that Buzanowski was fit (as a priest), when in fact they had reason to know he was a molester,” said Jeff Anderson, Schauer’s attorney. “As result, this family suffered as many others did.”
According to a statement from the diocese, Buzanowski served as a priest until 1989, when he requested a leave of absence. In 1990, Bishop Robert Morneau suspended Buzanowski from the priesthood. Buzanowski resigned in 1992.
Contrary to claims that it granted asylum to a known child molester, the diocese said in the statement issued Wednesday that “there was only one allegation against Buzanowski on file, and it is the allegation involving David Schauer. That allegation was reported to us after Buzanowski was no longer active in the ministry.”
“This is a very misleading characterizations of a serious situation. The Diocese of Green Bay does not tolerate sexual misconduct by church personnel, professionals or volunteers,” the statement said.
The statement said church officials were unaware of other incidents until 2003, when the diocese received a copy of a letter written by Buzanowski to a Protestant pastor in Milwaukee where he confessed to victimizing at least 14 boys.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests says the diocese knew all along that Buzanowski abused children.
According to Peter Isely of the Wisconsin SNAP, the diocese allowed a “predator priest” to move to Milwaukee and work with youth until he was incarcerated for child pornography in 2000.
Never formally charged as a sex offender, Buzanowski was able to obtain a job as a substance abuse counselor in Milwaukee after he left the Catholic Church, Isely said.
He said he hoped the Brown County lawsuit would “draw attention to the fact that Wisconsin is the safest place for pedophile priests in the U.S.” Isely said a state Supreme Court decision issued in 1995 made it difficult for survivors of abuse to sue priests.
Hoping to inspire social reform, Schauer said he found the strength to overcome the shame that keeps many victims in the closet. The complaint also asks for monetary damages.
“The only thing that gives me the courage to (come out) is knowing that I’m preventing this from happening to anybody else,” Schauer said.
Long after the sexual abuse occurred, Schauer said he honored the oath he made to Buzanowski in the counseling room of SS. Peter and Paul School. For nearly two years, Schauer never told anyone about what really went on in those sessions.
To deal with the pain, Schauer began writing journal entries about the abuse.
In 1990, Judith Schauer discovered the source of her son’s troubled behavior when she stumbled upon his diary.
“We knew something had happened to him we (just) didn’t know what,” Judith Schauer said at the press conference.
Horrified that a man she taught her son to trust a Catholic Priest had betrayed her family, Judith Schauer immediately confronted the diocese.
Although church officials offered to pay the cost of family counseling, they advised the Schauers not to go public with accusations, warning they could be sued for defamation of character, she said.
In that same meeting, diocese officials told Judith Schauer that she was the first person to bring child abuse claims against Buzanowski. But after being contacted by a Milwaukee reporter two months ago, the Schauers learned that David wasn’t alone in his suffering.
Calling that legacy of abuse “the ultimate betrayal,” the Schauers decided a lawsuit was the best means of reprimanding the Green Bay Diocese for letting a child molester pose as a priest.