WAUKESHA — Ten days before his previously scheduled retirement, Fr. John Schreiter, pastor of St. John Neumann Parish, was removed from his duties as pastor, due to an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor more than 30 years ago.
St. John parishioners learned of the allegation from Fr. Bill Kohler, Moderator of the Curia for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, who addressed parishioners during last weekend’s Masses.
Fr. Kohler read from a letter from Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, dated June 9, “Today I write to inform you that we have received an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against Fr. John Schreiter. The allegation was reported through the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process and dates back more than three decades.
“Per archdiocesan policy, the allegation was reported to the appropriate district attorney for review. The district attorney declined to prosecute and we are, therefore, initiating our archdiocesan process, during which, Fr. Schreiter is placed on administrative leave.”
In the letter, Archbishop Listecki noted that Fr. Schreiter denies the allegation and the archbishop added “that no substantiation of the allegation has occurred.”
According to Julie Wolf, communications director for the archdiocese, the allegation involves one incident and is not related to a prior accusation against Fr. Schreiter in 2004 found to be unsubstantiated.
The current allegation against Fr. Schreiter is in the hands of a private investigator, according to Wolf. After that person thoroughly investigates the matter, the information will be turned over to the Diocesan Review Board which will make a recommendation to Archbishop Listecki on how to proceed “whether that be fully restricted, laicized or returned to ministry.”
The process, said Wolf, will “take as long as it needs to take,” and will not be rushed, she added.
Calling it a difficult time for all involved, Wolf noted that the archdiocese turned the claim over to the district attorney as soon as it arrived.
“We get a call or a claim, it is turned over immediately to civil authorities,” she said.
“I think everyone knows what the archdiocese’s stance is on sexual abuse, child abuse of any kind, so this is a difficult time for everyone as we proceed through the Chapter 11 process. One reason we are doing this is to ensure that all claims could come forward. Every time we hear news from the district attorney, it is difficult on everyone — the victims, those who have been accused, parishioners, members of our own staff. It is not an easy thing because it turns up a lot of emotions. We feel we are doing the right thing following policies and procedures that we’ve had in place a number of years, and, as difficult as they may seem, we are doing the right thing and are letting the process take its course.”
The first allegation of abuse against Fr. Schreiter was made in March 2004 and alleged an incident from the early 1980s in Sauk County. At that time, Fr. Schreiter wrote a letter to his then-parishioners at St. Bruno Parish, Dousman, explaining why he would be away from the parish.
He wrote that the archdiocese was contacted with an allegation of abuse.
“The individual was an adult at the time of the alleged incident which occurred close to 25 years ago.”
Four months later, when the Diocesan Review Board determined the allegation was unsubstantiated, he was returned to active ministry.
Following that experience, Fr. Schreiter expressed concern to an Ad Hoc Committee on the Equitable Treatment of Clergy formed by then-Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan in 2004 about the presumption of guilt a priest faces when an allegation surfaces.
“The guidelines of the Dallas charter, and the way in which it is implemented do, in fact, give the impression that an accused priest is guilty,” he said.
Fr. Schreiter was ordained May 24, 1969, and served as associate pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, Milwaukee (1969-1970); and St. Joseph Parish, Wauwatosa (1970-1978). He was named pastor of St. Gall Parish, Milwaukee in 1978 and served there until being named pastor of St. Sebastian Parish, Milwaukee in 1986.
In 1992, he was named vicar for District 13 Central City Catholic Parishes and in 1994 became administrator and pastoral team moderator for the Central City Catholic Parishes while still serving as vicar. He became pastor of St. Bruno in 1996, and in 2006 became pastor of St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Beaver Dam, a position he held until June 2010 when he became pastor at St. John Neumann.
Fr. Curt Frederick, who was scheduled to become pastor at St. John on June 19, following Fr. Schreiter’s planned retirement, immediately assumed the pastoral and administrative needs of the parish, according to the archbishop’s letter.