Fr. Mark Molling was reinstated as pastor of St. Paul Parish in Genesee Depot after being placed on administrative leave for six weeksduring an investigation into a claim against him alleging sexual abuse of a minor from the mid-1990s.
After the Waukesha County District Attorney’s office didn’t file charges against Fr. Molling, the Milwaukee Archdiocese turned the claim over to an independent investigator, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki wrote in a letter dated May 5 that was read at that weekend’s Masses.
“The results of the investigation were studied by the Diocesan Review Board and they recommended to me that the allegation was not substantiated and that Fr. Molling should be restored to ministry,” he wrote. “I have accepted their recommendation and informed Fr. Molling that he is restored to ministry and may resume his role as your pastor.”
Fr. Molling, who returned to the parish to say the children’s Mass at 8:45 a.m. on Thursday, May 10, as well as the weekend Masses, said he received a positive reception from parishioners.
“People were very supportive,” he told your Catholic Herald in a telephone interview Monday, noting they also showed support while he was away with letters, cards and phone calls. “A vast majority of the people came up to me and welcomed me back directly and personally and so it was a very warm welcome, great welcome – felt good.”
He first learned the investigation was over Wednesday, May 2, when he received a telephone call from Fr. Pat Heppe, vicar for ordained and lay ecclesial ministry for the Milwaukee Archdiocese. Fr. Molling said he doesn’t remember the words Fr. Heppe used, but he remembers the feeling he had.
“All I remember is that I really, I became kind of weak-legged because it was like an emotional drain,” Fr. Molling said of the experience that left him feeling “powerless.”
“The stress and the drain were just unbelievable and I just was, I felt emotionally drained afterwards, just from having to maintain during the period and then to hear that it was over was just like whoa!” he said.
John W. Zewiske, a parishioner from North Prairie, said that the Mass that Fr. Molling celebrated for the children on his first day back was “remarkable.”
“I just think I was overjoyed that he was back with us,” Zewiske said. “It’s just he’s a very humble person and loves God and it was just a good feeling and it’s good to hear his voice again.”
Zewiske said it was lonesome without Fr. Molling, though he’s grateful for the help that the parish received from Fr. Robert Gosma and other priests who helped out in Fr. Molling’s absence.
“We knew in our hearts that he would come back because we knew he was not guity of the charges,” he said, adding that having Fr. Molling back makes them “whole again.”
Sharon Paetzke said she’s happy that the compassionate priest is back because her mother was devastated when he was placed on administrative leave. The Santa Clara, Utah, resident was in town visiting her mother, Marie Allen, 95, a St. Paul parishioner for 14 years, who is terminally ill with cancer.
“Fr. Mark came back to work at the parish May 10. The first thing May 11th, he visited my mother who is in my sister’s home in hospice care and I really want people to know how caring (he is) because he had so much parish business to do when he first came back, but he had time to visit the terminally ill,” she said.
Paetzke said her mother prayed day and night for Fr. Molling and that his visit “meant the world to her.”
Shirley Eichman of Mukwonago, told your Cahtholic Herald Tuesday that she also prayed almost every day for Fr. Molling and was “very happy” to have him back.
“I prayed for him and for the person doing the allegations and also for our parish I prayed every day for, and I trusted in God to bring about, the truth,” she said, noting Fr. Molling told parishioners at weekend Mass that he was humbled by the experience and that prayer was very important in getting him through.
He said he reminded them to pray for healing in the parish, in the archdiocese and in the church as a whole.
He said he urged them to pray for the real victims of sexual abuse, for the priests who are being accused, whether falsely or accurately.
“There’s just so much healing in this area that’s needed and I think we really do need to be praying for that healing,” he said.
While Fr. Molling said he doesn’t think he will have to work to restore his name with parishioners because they seem to be behind him 100 percent, the public is different.
“I think more on the public perception as a whole, it’s just going to be a matter of my trying to continue being a good priest,” he said, adding, “like I think I’ve tried to be for the last 32 years.”