Two adult brothers who contend they were sexually assaulted by a Waukesha County Catholic priest when they were boys sued the Milwaukee Archdiocese on Tuesday, saying it knew Father David Hanser had a history of molesting children and failed to warn their family.
The lawsuit, filed by David and Peter Neels in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, is the 12th civil fraud case now pending against the archdiocese alleging sexual abuse by clergy.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Julie Wolf said that the archdiocese acknowledged Hanser’s history in 2002, and that he was laicized, or defrocked, in 2005. His name appears on the archdiocese’s online list of priests with credible allegations of sexual abuse.
Hanser, of Nashotah, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
David Neels, 40, said the abuse and cover-up had permeated every part of his life, from his personal and business relationships to his faith.
“After so long, I can almost forgive Hanser. But I can’t forgive the fact that someone knew this was going on and covered it up,” David Neels said.
According to the lawsuit, Hanser served in several area parishes before being assigned to St. Mary Catholic Church in Pewaukee in the early 1980s.
The Neels – David, of Hudson, and Peter, of Cottage Grove, Minn. – contend that Hanser sexually assaulted them over several years beginning in 1982 when they were about 10 and 13 years old.
The lawsuit contends that the archdiocese knew of Hanser’s proclivities as early as the 1970s when a previous victim, who said he was molested by Hanser at St. Joseph Church in Waukesha, attempted to report it.
In that case, the lawsuit says, the victim reported the abuse to Father Bernard Sipple, who said he did not want to know the name of the offending priest. Sipple set up a meeting with the victim at the archdiocese, but when the victim arrived the church officials declined to meet with him, the lawsuit said.
Hanser, 77, is believed to have molested as many as a dozen boys beginning in the 1960s, according to a 2003 investigation by Waukesha County authorities. The cases were not prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired.
Hanser settled a civil lawsuit involving another set of siblings in 2003, paying an unspecified sum of money to the family and the Child Abuse Prevention Fund.
In that case, he was accused of molesting John Ramstack and three of his brothers in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Hanser was at Catholic Memorial High School and St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Brookfield.
The Ramstacks reported the abuse in 1988, after which Hanser was removed from St. Mary’s parish in Pewaukee. He served from 1991 to 2002 as a chaplain at area hospitals – with the understanding that he would have no unsupervised contact with children – after a therapist assured the archdiocese that he was no longer a threat. He retired in May 2002, a month after a Journal Sentinel story raised questions about his supervision as chaplain.
Wisconsin law bars most lawsuits regarding older claims of sexual assault. But the state Supreme Court ruled last year that the church can be sued for fraud if victims show it was aware of misconduct and did not warn others. The Milwaukee Archdiocese has said it could be bankrupted by a judgment in the lawsuits after a 2008 ruling that it could not tap its insurance policies to cover intentional fraud.