MILWAUKEE — In the aftermath of ongoing news coverage relating to allegations against Salvatorian Fr. Robert Marsicek, Fr. Joseph Rodrigues, provincial of the Salvatorian Order, issued an apology read by presiders at all Masses last weekend in the two parishes of which Fr. Marsicek was pastor: Mother of Good Counsel, Milwaukee, and St. Pius X, Wauwatosa.
“First, I want you to know that I am so sincerely sorry that this parish has been pulled into this crisis. I am very sorry for everyone involved,” read the apology.
Assuring listeners he has “zero tolerance for sexual abuse,” Fr. Rodrigues said, “If a priest or brother on my watch is charged with this crime, (he is) removed from public ministry. Period.”
But, he noted, the case involving Fr. Marsicek is “very complex.”
Fr. Marsicek, shared pastor of the two parishes, was removed from public ministry during Holy Week, after a Wauwatosa Catholic teacher observed and reported questionable touching by the priest. She took her concerns regarding the behavior to Wauwatosa Catholic administration, including principal Heidi Hernandez, and they in turn contacted the Wauwatosa Police Department.
At that point, the Wauwatosa Police asked Fr. Marsicek to stay away from the school while their investigation proceeded.
The April 18 issue of your Catholic Herald reported that Fr. Rodrigues, in an email, told the publication “the investigation has been completed and that Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Paul Tiffin said no criminal charges will be filed.”
On April 17, however, Fr. Rodrigues informed school parents via a letter that while no charges were filed against the Salvatorian stemming from the recent incident at Wauwatosa Catholic, allegations against the priest are being investigated in Sacramento, Calif., and by the Salvatorians themselves.
Fr. Rodrigues wrote, “This report concerns behavior from when Fr. Bob was at a parish in Sacramento between 1988 and 1996. The report was received by the Salvatorians in May 2012.”
He further explained that at the time the report was received by the Salvatorians and the Milwaukee Archdiocese from the Diocese of Sacramento, it was made by a third party and the victim, now an adult in his 30s was unwilling to come forward.
“Following the policies in place regarding reports of sexual abuse of a minor, the report was turned over to civil authorities – both the Sacramento Sherriff’s office and the Sacramento District Attorney,” he wrote, explaining that the Salvatorian policy is to fully cooperate with the investigation of civil authorities and not interfere by taking action that would preempt their investigation.
Later in his letter, he noted that the alleged victim in the Sacramento case has since come forward and has been encouraged to cooperate with law enforcement.
“It should be made clear that no charges have been filed in Sacramento and no allegation there, in Milwaukee, or elsewhere, has ever been substantiated,” he wrote, adding that Fr. Marsicek remains fully restricted from ministry while the Salvatorians conduct their own investigation to determine his suitability for ministry.
What has further complicated the case, Fr. Rodrigues explained in his weekend apology, is that the concerns against Fr. Marsicek involve “boundary issues,” actions reported by various media as inappropriate touching or hugging.
“When we did hear of these concerns in May of last year, we took that information very seriously. The provincial at the time, (Salvatorian Fr. David Bergner) with a trained professional, talked with Fr. Bob regarding the boundary concerns. There was no indication these boundary issues were related to sexual abuse,” read his statement.
He also noted that the California allegations, which are 10 months old, are being investigated by civil authorities.
“We had been mandated to keep it confidential by our policy so as not to hinder the civil investigation,” he said, stressing, “I assure you we are going to make changes to our policy and practices. If concerns are brought forward we need to do more than talk to an official or representative.”
Fr. Rodrigues, through his statement, said “the recent circumstances have taught us that prompt action needs to be taken to protect our children.” Noting he is heartbroken, he added that a temporary priest administrator will be appointed to both parishes soon.
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki also addressed the issues surrounding Fr. Marsicek in his Love One Another email circulated to priests and parish staff on Tuesday afternoon, April 23.
“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,” he wrote. “So, as I read the newspaper and reflected upon the comments some parishioners made to me, I could feel the church’s credibility crumbling again.”
He acknowledged that trust is fragile and as hard as the church works 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.”
He found a positive sign in the incident – the fact that the archdiocese’s Safe Environment program, which includes a code of conduct for all adults who work with youth on a regular basis, worked to the extent that when questionable behavior on the part of Fr. Marsicek was observed, it was reported immediately and the teacher and administrators, as mandatory reporters, took the information to the local police department.
While charges were not brought by civil authorities in the incident, Archbishop Listecki wrote that “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 was sexual abuse, but collectively they call into question allowing this priest to remain as pastor of two parishes, each with schools or day care programs.”
The archbishop noted that his prayer at an April 22 previously scheduled Mass of Atonement intended to acknowledge the wrongs of archdiocesan clergy and laity in relation to the abuse of our most vulnerable, was more than just words.
“We are different people today and a different church because of the acknowledgment of the sins and crimes committed by some,” he said, noting that he placed “our imperfect lives before our God, asking that he continue the work of reconciliation in us.”