Milwaukee archdiocese to release another priest file; second priest still under investigation

MILWAUKEE — At least one more priest’s personnel file will be made public as the Archdiocese of Milwaukee wraps up its investigations of sexual abuse claims filed in federal bankruptcy court, the archdiocese’s spokesman said.

The archdiocese released personnel files for 42 priests on July 1 as part of a deal with sexual abuse victims suing it for fraud. Some victims have criticized the church for not releasing more records.

Archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said this week that another priest’s file has been given to the archdiocese’s attorneys, who will work with victims’ attorneys to decide which portions to make public. A second priest is still under investigation, and his file could eventually become public. But other records will never be released.

The archdiocese has 45 priests on its list of those with verified allegations of abuse. Most of their names have been public since the archdiocese released its initial list in 2004, but one wasn’t added until after the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January 2011.

Hundreds of people came forward then with sexual abuse claims, many involving new allegations. The archdiocese treated those claims as new reports of abuse, forwarding allegations about anyone who was still alive to police and opening its own investigations, Topczewski said.

In 2012, the archdiocese added Donald Musinski to its list. Musinski served in churches in Milwaukee, Belgium and Johnsburg from 1962 to 1999. He died in 2006.

Karen Konter, 54, said Musinski abused her from age 8 to her graduation from eighth grade in 1972. Planning for her 25th grade school reunion triggered memories, and she reported the abuse in 1997. She said she made numerous reports to multiple people over the years but eventually gave up on what she described as a lengthy and frustrating process to verify her claim.

“I just finally said, ‘I’m done,'” she said.

Konter was serving on the creditors committee for the bankruptcy case when her attorneys asked her to speak with an investigator one more time. After that, Musinski’s name was added to the list, she said.

Topczewski said he couldn’t discuss the case in detail, but Musinski was added to the list as soon as the allegation against him was substantiated. He wasn’t sure when the file would be released because work on it is still being done.

Another priest, Laurin Wenig, was placed on leave in February 2011 following an accusation that he molested a child in the 1970s. Several other people later accused him as well. Wenig has denied all the allegations.

The archdiocese conducted an investigation after the district attorney’s office said too much time had passed for criminal charges to be filed. The archdiocese is now waiting for permission from the Vatican office responsible for handling clergy sex abuse cases to hold a form of church trial, Topczewski said. That process could lead to Wenig being placed on the list and removed from the priesthood.

If he was placed on the list, his file would become public under the deal the archdiocese made in bankruptcy court, said Mike Finnegan, an attorney representing many of the victims in the fraud case.

Investigators hired by the archdiocese cleared several other priests accused in the bankruptcy files, and they were returned to parishes. There are no pending investigations against anyone now serving in ministry, Topczewski said.

Finnegan said victims’ attorneys will push to release more documents, with the goal of eventually having nearly every record involved in the fraud and bankruptcy case made public.

Topczewski expressed concern about making unproven allegations public, pointing to the case of Rev. Mark Molling, who was cleared by a church investigation and returned to a parish in Genesee Depot last year. Molling’s reputation likely suffered lasting damage because media coverage was much greater when he was accused than when he was cleared, Topczewski said.

The files of two priests on the list of 45 with verified allegations will never be made public. The archdiocese and victims’ attorneys agreed to keep them sealed because the records involve single victims who might be easily identified.

Victims have accused the archdiocese of moving abusive priests to new churches without warning parishioners and covering up their crimes for decades. The files released July 1 support those allegations in some cases, but not others.

Many victims did not come forward until decades after the abuse occurred. Of the new allegations made in bankruptcy court, only seven involve abuse that happened after 1990, Topczewski said. One case involves abuse after 2000.

That could reflect an overall decrease in child sexual abuse in the United States since 1992. A report last year from the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center found better public awareness and law enforcement had reduced sex crimes against children.

Victims’ attorneys also hope to eventually have personnel records for religious order priests working in the archdiocese made public, Finnegan said.

Topczewski said the archdiocese keeps some records for them, such as appointment letters, but anything regarding sexual abuse would be sent to the orders, which would have to release those records.

One religious order priest, Robert Marsicek, was placed on leave in March amid allegations in Wisconsin and California. He had been serving in parishes in Milwaukee and the suburb of Wauwatosa.

Colleen Smith, a spokeswoman for his order, the Society of the Divine Savior, or Salvatorians, said the police investigation in Wisconsin was closed without charges being filed, but one in California continues. The order also is reviewing the situation. Smith said Marsicek has retired. A listed number for him could not be found.