David Schauer, a 25-year-old man who alleges he was sexually abused by a Green Bay priest when he was 10, filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Brown County Circuit Court seeking damages.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit were the priest, Donald Buzanowski; the Diocese of Green Bay; SS Peter and Paul Catholic School, 710 N. Baird St., Green Bay; and two unidentified insurance companies.
Based on a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling, Wisconsin does not allow a church to be sued for the conduct of its ministers. The lawyer who filed Schauer’s lawsuit, Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., is challenging that decision.
Anderson recently filed eight other lawsuits on behalf of the alleged victims of another priest, and those cases were dismissed at the Circuit Court level. He is appealing the decisions to the state Supreme Court, he said.
A group of survivors of sexual abuse by priests is lobbying legislators for a bill that would permit victims to sue the church for damages even though the statute of limitations has expired.
John Huebscher, executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, said the church believes that a victim of abuse as a juvenile could sue the church despite the Supreme Court decision but only if it occurred within the statute of limitations.
Anderson, in his lawsuit, argues that church and school officials were silent about the abuse, intentionally concealed the allegations and were negligent or reckless in failing to discover or prevent abuse by Buzanowski.
Schauer’s abuse allegations and Buzanowski’s confession in a letter to a Milwaukee clergyman that he had abused 14 teenage boys between 1969 and 1988 were the subject of a story that appeared in the Journal Sentinel on March 23.
Buzanowski, who has not been permitted to function as a priest since late 1990, came to Milwaukee in 1989 and lived briefly in a Catholic church rectory. He later worked for a private agency doing drug and alcohol assessments of troubled children.
Buzanowski had served a number of parishes in the 16-county Green Bay Diocese before taking a leave of absence in 1988.
Schauer’s parents went to police after they learned of their son’s abuse from a therapist in 1990. Police only took David Schauer’s statement and did not interview others at the school where the abuse allegedly occurred, nor did they interview the priest, who refused to talk to them. Church officials, who paid for Schauer’s therapy but did not try to interview others in the schools or parishes where Buzanowski served, told police that Buzanowski had denied the allegation, records showed.
Schauer’s mother says a church official warned her that she could be sued by Buzanowski if she talked about the alleged abuse.
Buzanowski was later convicted in Milwaukee of federal charges of possession of child pornography. He was recently released after serving a 21-month prison sentence.