Fr. John Wagner : Accused of Sexual Misconduct of a Minor

Fr. John Wagner


  • 1973 – 1974: St. William Parish, Waukesha
  • 1974 – 1976: St. Mary Parish, Sheboygan Falls
  • 1976 – 1981: Campus Ministry, Sheboygan
  • 1982 – 1986: St. Patrick Parish, Whitewater
  • 1987 – 1992: St. Catherine Parish, Milwaukee / Granville

John Wagner Documents  |  John Wagner Timeline


In January, 1982, more than eight years after Wagner had been ordained, the archdiocese received a report that he had made improper advances to a male student at the University of Wisconsin – Sheboygan, where Wagner had been assigned as Director Pro Tem to the Office for Campus Ministry.  In March 1982 Wagner indicated to a nun that he did not want to return to Port Washington because he had previsously messed around with some girls there.

The following year, in March, 1983, the Archdiocese’s Vicar for Priest Personnel, Father Joseph Janicki, referred Wagner to a psychologist for evaluation.  In making this referral, Father Janicki related to the evaluator that two members of St. Patrick Parish in Whitewater, where Wagner was then acting as parish administrator, had expressed concerns over Wagner’s ability to run the parish.  In addition, Father Janicki disclosed that one of Wagner’s closest priest friends had described Wagner as ‘amoral,’ and experiencing psychosexual problems that were causing inner conflict.  Wagner himself had also expressed to Father Janicki a desire to join an ecumenical ministry in California headed by an Orthodox Church priest.  The group that Wagner wanted to join was one that Archbishop Weakland knew about, and considered to have heavy homosexual overtones.  Father Janicki wanted to see if something could be done for Wagner before he left the priesthood, or harmed the parish.  Subsequently, Wagner was scheduled for a complete evaluation at a center in Wausau.

In May, 1986, Bishop Sklba met with Wagner following a six month sabbatical Wagner had taken in Rome to discuss the process for reassigning him.  Among three reasons Sklba listed as impediments for advocating Wagner’s interests was “the subtle reputation regarding sexual activity on his part.”

On August 18, 1986, Bishop Sklba met with some parishioners from St. Patrick Parish, Whitewater, who reported that two university exchange students claimed that Wagner had propositioned them, causing them to move out of the rectory very early in their stay.  In October 1986 a woman wanted to meet with Wagner; her desire was for Wagner not to see her son, then 18.

In a November 24, 1986 letter to Wagner, Bishop Sklba reinforced caution against moving towards Wagner’s permanent placement after he completed his temporary stay in Wilmot.  Bishop Sklba shared with Wagner that the archdiocese’s legal counsel had urgently and insistently admonished them that it would be a mistake to make such an assignment in view of the current situation, and the publicity given to abuse lawsuits in Green Bay.  Instead, Bishop Sklba suggested that Wagner look to a place of residence in a parish while he continued his current counseling, with the possibility of doing some pastoral work here.  Bishop Sklba acknowledged that he did not appreciate how “legally precarious [Wagner’s] present situation” was when he previously had encouraged Wagner to discuss his next assignment with the personnel board.  Bishop Sklba closed by describing the case as a “very, very serious one, and everyone needs the most protection possible.”

Early the next year, a January, 1987, report from a psychologist informed Bishop Sklba that “Wagner’s sexual drives are strong and that no mental health professional could predict with certainty whether he could, indeed, live a celibate life.”  However, the doctor believed the potential for a fruitful career in the ministry could be enhanced if certain safeguards were built into Wagner’s assignments.  Wagner had agreed to them, including committing to celibacy, and not being alone with minors.

In May, 1988, Bishop Sklba exchanged letters with the psychologist who had been counseling Wagner.  The therapist reported that he had been seeing Wagner less (roughly once a month), viewed him as under control sexually, and functioning well with his present assignment.  In response, Bishop Sklba informed the therapist that at a recent meeting of diocesan lawyers, Bishop Sklba had learned that attorneys were recommended to seek a double opinion from professional sources before recommending reassignment after difficult situations.

In October, 1990, an investigator from the Whitewater district attorney’s office interviewed Bishop Sklba regarding allegations from 1985.  Bishop Sklba agreed to check his personal notes, and the investigator expressed appreciation for the archdiocese’s cooperation.

In an August 17, 1992 letter, Wagner’s therapist reported to Bishop Sklba that Wagner had been celibate and had avoided contact with adolescent males.

In November, 1992, the individual who had previously come forward and made allegations from 1985 against Wagner was filmed by Channel 12 regarding the allegations.  The following day, Bishop Sklba contacted Wagner and told him not to return to help out that weekend at St. Theresa, as Wagner had been doing.

On January 5, 1993, a newspaper article reported that Wagner had been named in a lawsuit.

Subsequently, on July 9, 1993, Archbishop Weakland wrote to Wagner prohibiting contact with minors and any public ministry, and advising Wagner that Weakland would begin an investigation.

In January, 1994, the archdiocese, and a survivor reportedly abused by Wagner while he had been assigned to St. Patrick’s Parish, Whitewater, entered into a settlement agreement requiring payment of $100,000, as well as further payments for therapy of up to $5,000 annually for 10 years.

In March, 1994, Archbishop Weakland wrote to Father Daniel Ward, Wagner’s appointed canonical advocate, advising Father Ward that Wagner could not be assigned a ministry position in the archdiocese due to the nature of past events and the scandal associated with them.  Accordingly, Archbishop Weakland expressed his willingness to have Father Ward proceed with getting Wagner dispensed from the obligations of the priesthood.

In May, 1995, a representative of the archdiocese wrote to Wagner about not having received settlement documents back regarding Wagner’s voluntary dismissal from the priesthood, and informing him that, as of the end of April, Wagner’s financial support from the archdiocese ceased, and that the archdiocese was no longer going to pay for canonical services for Wagner since he had not availed himself of those offered by Father Ward.  In responding later that month, Wagner wrote to Archbishop Weakland advising him that he was refusing to sign the settlement documents, that he wanted to remain a priest, and that he was currently doing working for the Sisters of Charity of St. Joan Antida.

In December, 1995, the archdiocese received a report that Wagner had abused a boy in 1976 at Tanglewood, south of Sheboygan, when the boy was 15.  The boy reportedly told a seminarian in 1976, and years later (in 1982 and 1986) others.

More than six years later, in April, 2002, the archdiocese received a report of sexual abuse by Wagner in 1964-1965 when the male survivor was in 5th grade (around 10 years old) at St. Peter’s grade school in Port Washington.

The following year, in January and February, 2003, the archdiocese received reports regarding alleged abuse of a 16-year-old girl by Wagner that occurred during a camping trip.  The female survivor did not want to be contacted, as she was dealing with abuse issues (though it was unclear if the reference was to herself or the woman’s job).

In August, 2004, Wagner was interviewed as part of the archdiocese’s investigation of abuse allegations that had been directed at him of having raped a girl at a camp when he was a deacon doing an internship at St. Frederick’s Parish in 1972.  Wagner said the claim was “nonsense,” and denied ever having sex with a girl.  Wagner refused to exclude his having had sex with adult females.  At the time of the interview, Wagner was undergoing therapy, and had hired a lawyer given his distrust of archdiocesan officials.  A chronology of events that is included in the written interview report includes excerpts from the previously referenced January, 1987, report by a psychologist that relates Wagner’s view of genital interaction as an extension of sexuality of a relationship and his admission that he is sexual, and has been heterosexual and homosexual throughout his life; Wagner believed celibate meant not married, and was committed to express his sexuality as he saw fit as long as it did not hurt anyone else.

In the spring of 2005, the archdiocese entered into two settlements with two individuals who claimed to have been sexually abused by Wagner.  The first settlement included payment of $28,000 for the individual’s ministry, $50,000 in consideration for past counseling and debt, and up to $1,200 per year for five additional years of counseling.  The second settlement included payment of $66,771, and $34,393 for therapy.

In August, 2005, the archdiocese received a report from an individual who claimed to have been abused by Wagner in the late 1960’s when the survivor was 13-15 years old.

In September, 2005, Archbishop Dolan wrote to Archbishop Amato at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, submitting Wagner’s case and seeking his dismissal from the clerical state.  Archbishop Dolan reported that while Wagner had admitted to some sexual acts, he denied others, and that the archdiocese’s efforts at intervention over the years had not been successful.  In particular, Archbishop Dolan pointed out that Wagner had not been in compliance with the order to have no unsupervised contact with minors.  Archbishop Dolan stated that the archdiocese’s investigation showed that Wagner had consistently abused his religious office to gain access to vulnerable children, both male and female, and the trust of their parents.  Archbishop Dolan commented that in both Wagner’s parochial and campus ministry assignments, Wagner had found opportunities to abuse his office flagrantly and repetitively, yet he exhibited no remorse for his serious offenses.  Rather, Wagner’s only concern had been with his financial stats.  Archbishop Dolan noted that the impact on survivors had been significant, and that the archdiocese had not yet located all of those that might come forward for assistance.  Accordingly, given the gravity of the offenses, and to achieve justice and to promote the healing of survivors and the Church, Archbishop Dolan was recommending Wagner’s dismissal from the priesthood.

In the latter part of 2005 and early 2006, the archdiocese entered into three additional settlements with individuals who claimed to have been sexually abused by Wagner.  The first called for payment of $80,000, the second for payment of $96,000, and the third for payment of $95,000 plus health insurance costs.

In letters sent in 2006 from the CDF, Archbishop Amato advised Archbishop Dolan that additional information was required to act on Wagner’s case, and inquired if Wagner was willing to request laicization.

In subsequent correspondence with the CDF in 2008, Archbishop Dolan resubmitted the case of Wagner, and provided additional documentation of reports of sexual abuse of minors by Wagner.  Archbishop Dolan advised the CDF that Wagner had cut off all contact with the archdiocese, so that there was no way of confronting Wagner with the additional reports, particularly the “extremely disturbing” ones that Wagner may still be in contact with teenage boys.  The CDF told Archbishop Dolan that he should start a penal process against Wagner, or ask him to voluntarily petition for laicization.

In March, 2008, Wagner’s retained canonical advocate, Father Pat Lagges, wrote to Archbishop Dolan to advise him that Wagner was willing to submit a voluntary petition for laicization if the archdiocese would pay him more than the $20,000 that had been offered, which would enable Wagner to support himself over the two years remaining until he would qualify for Social Security.

In December 2012 Benedict XVI issued a decree of laicization for Wagner.

Pastoral Assignment Gathered From The Archdiocese of Milwaukee