The Milwaukee-Sentinel Online
23 April 2012
By Journal Sentinelof the
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki issued a letter Tuesday suggesting the Catholic Church erred in its handling of a Wauwatosa priest suspended from leading two parishes and schools after a teacher reported what she considered inappropriate contact with a child in March.
Listecki said Father Robert Marsicek‘s history of boundary issues involving children called into question the decision to leave him in ministry after it was learned in May 2012 that he was being investigated for alleged sexual abuse of two boys in the late 1980s to 1990s in California.
“While our decisions followed the letter of the law in accordance with existing policies, I am not sure they followed the spirit of the law with regard to our pledge to be vigilant in keeping children safe,” Listecki said in his weekly letter to Catholics in southeastern Wisconsin.
That decision, Listecki said, undermines the progress the church has made in addressing its sex abuse scandal and working to keep children safe in their parishes and schools.
“Everything we do is an effort to restore the trust and credibility that was so badly broken . . . But trust is fragile,” said Listecki. “So, as I read the newspaper (accounts of Marsicek’s history) and reflected upon the comments some parishioners made to me, I could feel the Church’s credibility crumbling again.”
The contrite, pastoral tone of Listecki’s letter stood in contrast with comments last week by his chief of staff, Jerry Topczewski, who chastised media for reporting on Marsicek and asserted that boundary issues are not cause to remove a priest from ministry.
Marsicek had served as pastor at St. Pius X parish in Wauwatosa, Mother of Good Counsel parish and school in Milwaukee, and Wauwatosa Catholic School.
Police were called to Wauwatosa Catholic, at 1500 Wauwatosa Ave., after a teacher reported seeing Marsicek squeeze the buttocks of a young girl who was sitting on his lap, and later putting his hand on her thigh while he whispered in her ear.
He was suspended in late March by his order, the Society of the Divine Savior, after Wauwatosa police barred him from the schools.
Marsicek, 71, told authorities that he was merely affectionate and that any inappropriate touching was inadvertent.
The Milwaukee County district attorney’s office declined to charge Marsicek, saying it could not prove the elements of a crime. However, his order, known as the Salvatorians, is conducting its own review and has said Marsicek will never again work with children.
As part of their investigation, Wauwatosa police found several other references to complaints or concerns in Marsicek’s personnel files going back to at least 2004 at the archdiocese and his order. Again and again in letters, emails and conversations, parents, a day care worker and others express concerns about “red flag behaviors” or excessive “playfulness” and “body games.”
In one case, a mother reported that Marsicek touched her daughter’s genitalia through her clothes, but the case was not turned over to police.
Day care providers at Pius’ before- and after-school program raised concerns about Marsicek taking certain children back to his living quarters, after which they’d return with small stuffed animals and candy. After the complaint, Marsicek could continue to visit the program, but he was barred from taking children back to his apartment, a former day care worker said in an interview.
Salvatorian and archdiocese officials repeatedly spoke to Marsicek about his conduct. A memo was placed in his file, and he repeatedly vowed to change his behavior.
Listecki said in his letter Tuesday that “none of these behaviors were sexual abuse, but collectively they call into question allowing this priest to remain serving as pastor of two parishes, each with schools or day care programs.”