Up to four in Green Bay Diocese and one in Milwaukee under scrutiny
Authorities said Thursday that they were investigating allegations of sexual abuse involving as many as five more Catholic priests – four in the Green Bay Diocese and one in the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
This is terrible. We’re presuming that it’s false.
The new investigations come as Catholic authorities around the country face continuing fallout from the deepening scandal, which first surfaced in Boston in January. Since then, it has reverberated across the country as diocese after diocese has acknowledged mishandling past cases of abuse.
Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann said Thursday that he was looking into allegations referred to him by the Milwaukee Archdiocese. The priest in question was removed from active ministry this month after the allegations surfaced.
The archdiocese said it forwarded the allegations to McCann’s office for possible prosecution after two people alleged that the priest sexually abused them years ago when they were minors.
The priest had not previously been accused of sexual misconduct and was not among the cases being examined to determine whether the archdiocese had handled them properly, said archdiocesan spokesman Jerry Topczewski.
“The priest was in active ministry, not at a parish, but was immediately removed from active ministry with full restrictions on his ability to function as a priest, pending the review of the case and the recommendation of the district attorney,” Topczewski said.
Both of the allegations against the priest involved old incidents, but one might have been recent enough to fall within the statute of limitations for prosecution, Topczewski said.
Archbishop Rembert Weakland has established a community commission to investigate alleged and confirmed past cases of abuse. On Wednesday, archdiocesan officials acknowledged that two retired priests who had credible allegations of past sexual abuse in their records were recently barred from helping at weekend parish Masses and other ministries after their accusers or accusers’ relatives found out about their ministries and objected.
Pastor placed on leave
In Green Bay, Bishop Robert J. Banks has placed one of the four priests, a pastor of a parish, on administrative leave. Another of the priests has moved out of state. The status of the other two clerics was unclear.
Banks, while vicar for administration in Boston, played a role in helping to shuttle priests from parish to parish, including John Geoghan, who was accused of molesting 130 minors and was later defrocked. In another case, Banks said this week that he was not aware that another Boston-area priest – Paul Shanley – had advocated sex between men and boys when Banks drafted a letter of recommendation for the priest years later.
Banks is standing by the pastor placed on leave, saying the priest was devastated by the accusations.
“This is terrible,” Banks said. “We’re presuming that it’s false.”
Tony Kuick, a diocesan spokesman, said the diocese is not surprised to see the sudden influx of reports of sexual abuse, given the national publicity on the topic in recent months. The diocese will maintain the innocence of all the priests accused locally until there is enough evidence to prove otherwise, he said.
The Green Bay Diocese covers 16 counties, stretching from Winnebago in the south to Florence in the north, and from Shawano in the west to Door in the east.
Despite the accusations threatening his diocese – and his own reputation – Banks argued that the Catholic Church remains strong, and its parishioners should not feel unsafe or betrayed.
“Bishops do not like to put pedophiles in positions where they hurt children,” he said.
Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski said the Green Bay Police Department was investigating the allegations against the pastor on leave. The De Pere Police Department is investigating another priest, he said.
In Winnebago County, District Attorney Joseph Paulus has made a formal request to the Green Bay Diocese for information about two priests who were accused of sexual abuse.
Paulus said his office received calls last week from two people who made allegations against the two priests about “inappropriate sexual behaviors in past years.”
He would not say whether the callers identified themselves as victims, would not name the priests and said he did not know where the priests are now.
Paulus said he has not sought any information that would confirm the allegations other than to request records on the two priests from the Green Bay Diocese. He said he is interested in background information on the priests and any allegations that might have been made against them.
“Before I go any further with that, I want to see what, if anything, the diocese had in their files,” Paulus said.
A fifth investigation into alleged sexual abuse by a priest is expected to begin soon in Brown County, Zakowski said.
Gamut of emotions
Catholics in Green Bay expressed a wide range of emotions over the recent revelations.
Bob Boucher, an 85-year-old lifelong parishioner at St. Willebrord Parish downtown, said the accusations involving the Catholic Church have been hard to bear.
“I feel very sorry about it,” said Boucher, who attends morning Mass daily. “I think everybody feels sad.”
Carol Lewis, a 71-year-old parishioner at St. Mary the Angels Church in Green Bay, said she expected many new allegations to come up from people following the media, but she didn’t believe them and she didn’t think the Catholic Church was in trouble.
“People are blaming the church, and it’s the people,” said Lewis. “The church is a perfect thing.”