In a pastoral letter now published in his blog on the Archdiocese of Milwaukee website, Archbishop Jerome Listecki says that while the church followed "the letter of the law" in allowing Father Robert Marsicek to retain his priestly duties in Wauwatosa while he was being investigated in California, it might not have followed "the spirit of the law," in light of the church's pledge to keep children safe.
The contrite missive, titled "Child Abuse Awareness," begins by noting that this is Child Abuse Awareness month and this week is Safe Environment Week in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and his celebration of a Mass of Atonement at St. John Vianney Parish in Brookfield for the victims of clergy sexual abuse, as well for "the community that carries the pain" associated with it.
Listecki outlines steps the Catholic Church has taken over the past decade in training of its staff, education of its flock, and outreach to the community, restoring trust and credibility to an institution "badly broken" by its response to past allegations of abuse.
But, "trust is fragile," Listecki goes on. "As hard as we work to build it, it can be shattered again in a moment, and with it, all the good work that has been accomplished can be dismissed as meaningless.
"I’m afraid that’s what happened as news reports highlighted the situation in Wauwatosa, where a priest was allowed to remain in ministry as civil authorities from another state investigated an allegation from the 1970s, which was just recently brought forward."
Clearly referring to Marsicek, in some detail, Listecki writes that the allegations were brought through a third party, not the victim, and that the victim was unwilling to cooperate, leaving the allegation unsubstantiated.
However, Listecki said in his letter, "a report about the same priest came from one of our schools, from a teacher, thankfully, who was following their Safe Environment training.
"Although charges were not brought by civil authorities, in looking at the complete picture of the priest’s history, we see a priest who was repeatedly warned about boundary issues. 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 daycare programs.
"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 that as he read news accounts and "reflected upon the comments some parishioners made to me, I could feel the Church’s credibility crumbling again."
Marsicek was pastor of Divine Savior Church in Orangevale, CA, from 1987 to 2000, and was being investigated there on at least one and possibly two allegations of child sexual abuse.
Since then he has been pastor of Pius X in Wauwatosa, as well as Mother of Good Counsel in Milwaukee. He was also priest designee of Wauwatosa Catholic School, merged two years ago from the former Pius X and St. Bernard parish schools.
On March 28, Marsicek was suspended from all priestly duties after a teacher at the school, located at St. Bernard, 7474 Harwood Ave., reported to her principal that on March 22 and 26 she had seen Marsicek inappropriately touching a girl while holding her on his lap in her classroom, according to police reports.
On March 27, school officials called Wauwatosa police, and an investigation uncovered many more concerns and complaints going back at least to 2004, when a similar allegation of sexual abuse was reported at Pius X but was not investigated outside the church and school.
Multiple instances of parents, teachers and daycare workers raising concerns also surfaced, none of them rising to the level of sexual abuse complaints. Rather, they constituted worries that "Father Bob," as he was called, was uncomfortably close and physical in his contact with children.
In the most recent allegations leading to the police investigation, the teacher reported seeing Marsicek holding the girl on his lap and squeezing her buttocks and upper thigh.
The child, interviewed by a social worker trained in recognizing abuse, said Marsicek had also touched and squeezed her breasts.
Daycare workers told police that Marsicek had on several occasions taken children to his living quarters, from which they returned with candy and stuffed animals.
Marsicek was repeatedly warned about this sort of "boundary behavior" and repeatedly promised to amend his physical behavior with children.
Marsicek, in interviews with police, maintained his innocence, saying his fondness for children because of their "loveableness" leads him to demonstative contact but not for sexual gratification.