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SNAP asks Attorney General to force release of sex abuse documents

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) — The Milwaukee Archdiocese is urging the Attorney General’s Office to step in and force the Milwaukee Archdiocese to turn over hundreds of pages of documents detailing child sex abuse claims as the Archdiocese goes through bankruptcy proceedings.

Victim/survivors of childhood sexual assault by clergy of the Milwaukee Archdiocese who are members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests announced on Thursday, January 17th new documents filed in Federal Bankruptcy Court which show that officials of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee are refusing to cooperate with police in a current child abuse investigation in Fond du Lac concerning former priest, Fr. Jerome Wagner.

In an unprecedented brief filed Thursday in Milwaukee Federal Bankruptcy court, at least 350 victim/survivors of childhood sexual assault by clergy are asking Judge Susan V. Kelley to help police investigators in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin to obtain from church officials a priest file containing criminal evidence in a current and active child sex assault investigation.

The alleged childhood sexual assaults under investigation occurred in Fond du Lac by former priest, Fr. Jerome Wagner, and are within the Wisconsin criminal statute of limitations for child sex assault.

According to a sworn affidavit by veteran Fond du Lac police detective Jeffery Harbridge, two top Milwaukee Archdiocesan officials, Sr. Susan Rosenbach and Deacon David Zimprich, have refused to turn over Wagner’s file to police.   Rosenbach is the Victims Assistance Coordinator and Zimprich is in charge of monitoring and supervising clergy offenders.

Although Rosenbach did inform Harbridge that Wagner’s abuse file contains at least seven direct victim or witness reports of child sexual assault, she and Zimprich still refused to turn over the evidence.  Wagner’s file also likely contains documents detailing how church officials concealed these reports and transferred Wagner to new assignments.

Both Rosenbach and Zimprich, according to detective Harbridge, based their refusal to cooperate on the rules of Federal Bankruptcy Court.

There is, however, nothing prohibiting the archdiocese from releasing documents and information of any kind to law enforcement, or even to the public.  The documents are under seal because the archdiocese itself requested the protective order, which they could legally lift at any time.

In Thursday’s brief, victim/survivors are asking Kelley if their attorneys could submit the Wagner file to the police, along with releasing to the public abuse related documents and depositions concerning other priest offenders who have worked in the archdiocese.

Wagner quietly left the priesthood in 2007 after reports were confirmed by the archdiocese that he had sexually abused children (see Wagner’s assignment history and publicly known allegations).  According to 2008 sworn testimony by former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, Wagner was moved from his post at St. Jerome’s in Oconomowoc in the late 1980’s after confirmed reports of child sexual abuse.  He then was appointed to work at several parishes in Fond Du Lac, where he remained in ministry for over a decade.

In 2007, Wagner, according to court documents, was paid a $20,000 “signing bonus” by Weakland’s successor, Timothy Dolan, to voluntarily leave the clerical state.  Wagner took up a new occupation as a funeral director, which he trained for before leaving the priesthood.  Wagner now conducts funeral services and is a grief counselor in Fond Du Lac.  He has regular and unsupervised access to children and families.

According to the website of the Zacheral Funeral Home in Fond du Lac where Wagner is currently on staff, he became a funeral director “after thirty-one years as a clergyman…has been in Fond du Lacsince 1986, and currently lives in the village of Pipe.”  The website also says that Wagner “is a member of the Knights of Columbus and Holy Family Parish.”

At least 8,000 acts of criminal child sex abuse by at least 150 alleged offenders is under seal by the bankruptcy court.  Most of these offenders are ordained clergy who have worked in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee with children and families over the past 50 years. At least 100 of these offenders appear to have never been identified to law enforcement officials or the public. Along with these direct victim reports, there are at least 60,000 pages of internal abuse related church documents and recent depositions of top church officials.

The current church officials who are refusing to hand over Wagner’s child abuse file to police are under the direct supervision and instruction of Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki.

Concerns about Listecki’s willingness to cooperate with civil authorities on priest child sex
abuse cases surfaced as well in his previous post while Bishop of La Crosse before his appointment to Milwaukee by the Vatican in 2010.  Listecki led a diocese that kept a greater percentage of clergy with child sex abuse reports in ministry than any other diocese in the United States, six times the national average.  Listecki was also publicly criticized by the Eau Claire police chief for his failure to institute a proper reporting policy for the diocese, which he would not correct, along with several high-profile cases involving priests where current abuse reports or evidence were not turned over to law enforcement.

Victims want the Wisconsin Attorney General to assure the public that all five Wisconsin Catholic dioceses have turned over all evidence of child abuse by clerics to law enforcement officials across the state and that no church official is refusing to cooperate or obstruct child abuse investigations.

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