By Patti Zarling
DE PERE — An advocacy group for people abused by clergy wants St. Norbert Abbey to help turn over to authorities a priest accused of molesting a boy during a four-day visit to St. Norbert College in the 1980s.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, today delivered a letter to Abbot Gary Neville, urging the abbey to immediately turn over to authorities the Rev. Edward J. Smith.
In 2007, Smith was found guilty in a federal civil suit in Delaware of sexually assaulting Ken Whitwell, now 39, over a three-year period in the 1980s.
Neville, however, emphasized that Smith has never been a member of St. Norbert Abbey. Smith was a Norbertine priest who worked in Delaware and visited the De Pere abbey in the 1980s, according to court documents.
“St. Norbert Abbey has always cooperated with legal authorities whenever asked and will continue to do so,” the abbot said in a written statement.
SNAP argues that Smith should be criminally charged in Wisconsin because documents from the federal civil trial indicate some of the abuse occurred while Smith and Whitwell visited De Pere.
Because the Wisconsin criminal statute freezes if an offender leaves the state, the statute of limitations has not run out and Smith still can be prosecuted for actions that took place here, SNAP Midwest director Peter Isely said.
“This is not a closed case, it’s a cold case,” he said.
Isley wants Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski to investigate. Isely said he’s been in contact with Zakowski via e-mail, though they haven’t discussed specifics.
Isely said he thinks Smith likely still is in Delaware and would need to be extradited if Zakowski’s office moves forward.
The Wisconsin Norbertines should work to bring Smith back to Wisconsin for possible prosecution, he said.
A U.S. District Court jury awarded Whitwell $41 million in damages. Whitwell testified he was sexually abused hundreds of times by Smith, a faculty priest at Archmere Academy in Delaware, including episodes in that state, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Vermont.
Isely said he’s hopeful prosecution here will move forward.
“This case, I think, is an awful good case,” he said.
St. Norbert Abbey said it is aware of Whitewell’s lawsuit in Delaware and reviewed SNAP’s statement on Tuesday.
“A cursory review of the allegations show that there are numerous factual errors as to the relationship between St. Norbert Abbey and other defendants in the litigation.
“Because this is pending litigation, we have been advised not to comment on this matter, except to say that Smith is not and has never been a member of St. Norbert Abbey. Ed Smith is a member of another abbey; each abbey is independent.”