Milwaukee Catholic officials knew of California sex abuse allegations against priest

(JS Online) Catholic Church officials in Milwaukee had known for 10 months that Father Robert Marsicek was under investigation on suspicion of molesting two children in California, according to the Sacramento diocese.

But they did not move to suspend him from his duties at two local parishes and schools until a new allegation surfaced at a Wauwatosa school last month.

Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the Diocese of Sacramento, said officials there notified the Archdiocese of Milwaukee; Marsicek’s Milwaukee-based religious order, the Society of the Divine Savior; and attorneys for both of the organizations about the California allegations in May 2012.

Marsicek is accused of sexually abusing two children in one family while he served at Divine Savior Parish in Orangevale, according to an announcement read at the California parish last weekend.

Archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski and Divine Savior Provincial Father Joseph Rodrigues said no steps were taken to restrict Marsicek from parishes or schools because to do so might have compromised the California investigation. Topczewski said that is in keeping with the archdiocese’s policy in such cases.

“You can’t just remove a guy without telling him why,” he said. “And if you tell him why, does he have an opportunity to start building a defense? Could he flee, try to pressure people? It’s a huge balancing act.”

Marsicek, 71, has been pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Wauwatosa and Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Milwaukee, and oversaw Our Mother of Good Counsel’s school as well as Wauwatosa Catholic School.

Police were called to Wauwatosa Catholic School, 1500 Wauwatosa Ave., in March after a teacher reported what she considered inappropriate contact with a student by Marsicek. Teachers are required by Wisconsin law to report such incidents to authorities.

Rodrigues said that his order, also known as Salvatorians, normally does not remove clergy until civil authorities decide whether to file charges. However, the order placed Marsicek on leave March 28 because Wauwatosa police had ordered him to have no contact with the schools.

At that time, Rodrigues told the Journal Sentinel he did not know of any other allegations against Marsicek. On Tuesday, he defended that statement, noting that he had been careful to say the order did not have any other allegations “from a victim.” In the Sacramento case, the allegations came to the order through the diocese.

The Milwaukee County district attorney’s office said Friday it would not file charges because it could not prove the elements of a crime. However, Marsicek remains on leave, pending a continuing internal investigation by his order.

Victims’ advocates voiced outrage over the revelation that local officials knew about the California investigation, saying it illustrates their concerns that problem priests may still be serving in local parishes and schools. It’s a fear they have raised repeatedly in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee bankruptcy case.

Victims say a lack of transparency by religious orders, which provide staffing at several churches and schools, and the archdiocese, which grants order priests permission to minister locally, creates a potential safety risk for children.

“What’s he doing in a grade school? That’s insane,” said Peter Isely of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Without greater transparency, Isely said, “Archbishop (Jerome) Listecki cannot guarantee the safety of parishes and schools in Milwaukee. Period.”

The archdiocese maintains that religious orders are responsible for their own priests. Victims’ advocates argue that both share responsibility.

In a separate case, a former Manitowoc County woman reported to the Journal Sentinel and the Salvatorians additional allegations against Marsicek from when he served in a parish there in the 1970s. She supplied an email exchange this week between her mother and a victim assistance coordinator for the Salvatorians, in which the coordinator says: “I also can assure you that Fr. Marsicek is not – and will not – be working with children of any age now or in the future.”

Efforts to reach the victim assistance coordinator were not successful Tuesday; however, Rodrigues confirmed that he was aware of the exchange .