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Overnight trips took abuse by priests beyond Milwaukee

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Forum News Service

Child sexual abuse by priests described in documents released this week by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee wasn’t limited to southeastern Wisconsin.

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Rather, the incidents occurred from Chicago to California to the Caribbean — and also the Northland, frequently on overnight trips taken by priests and children.

Of 42 priest files released Monday by the Milwaukee Archdiocese and reviewed by the News Tribune, 22 contain references to child molestation on camping trips, a cross-state bicycle ride and at least one Caribbean cruise.

The abuse is often explicitly described. But the geographic details are less so, many noted vaguely as occurring “up north” — a generalization that sometimes refers to suburban Milwaukee, sometimes Wisconsin’s northern counties and more often left unidentified.

“When (name redacted) was in 7th grade, (redacted) felt uneasy about the amount of time (he) spent alone with Fr. Jablonowski, including at his private quarters and place up north,” reads the file on the Rev. James Jablonowski.

Other locales are named, including one in the Northland: “(Name redacted) states that when he was in (redacted) grade, 1979, Father James Beck took him on a camping trip near Ladysmith, Wisconsin. He states that Beck molested him on this camping trip.”

Beck, who agreed to abandon his priesthood and was placed on permanent leave in 1995 after multiple allegations, was an associate pastor in suburban Milwaukee at the time. His parents also had a house near Ladysmith, according to the files, where similar abuse was also alleged.

Of the 20 priests for whom there is no noticeable mention of trips with children, abuse is alleged to have occurred on church grounds, in schools or priests’ living quarters.

But the files show other clerics molesting children beyond the parish walls, the boundaries of the diocese, and even the U.S.

The file for the Rev. Franklyn Becker reads: “(A church worker) objected to the fact that he took a Caribbean vacation at the height of the parish business,” adding, “Worse yet, he took along a 7th or 8th grade child which has shocked many people.”

Becker was an associate pastor at a Milwaukee parish in 1982 when he secured a one-week chaplaincy on a Caribbean cruise and took the boy along. Though he admitted sharing his cabin with the boy and conceded to bad judgment, Becker denied anything sexual happened. He also had received approval from the boy’s parents.

“Parents were proud that their son was chosen to serve as an altar boy on a cruise where their priest was going to be the chaplain and so they gave permission,” the files states.

Nonetheless, the priest faced numerous other accusations: in Milwaukee, while on a trip to Stevens Point, and while temporarily assigned in the Diocese of San Diego. In the 1990s, he sought regular employment as a cruise chaplain, requests that raised the ire of church officials, the documents show.

The Rev. Michael Neuberger was even more peripatetic, with records documenting him taking children, including those from an orphanage, on overnight trips to Minneapolis and Baton Rouge, beginning in the 1960s. He also took children intrastate, to Wisconsin Dells, Wolf River, the Flambeau Flowage and Boulder Junction, the records show.

Boulder Junction is the same town where one of the most notorious Milwaukee Archdiocese priests, the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, allegedly abused children in a cottage near his parents’ home when he was dispatched to the Superior Diocese in the 1970s. Murphy’s records were also released Monday.

Another Milwaukee Archdiocese priest, the Rev. Oswald G. Krusing, was temporarily assigned to Washburn in the Superior Diocese in the 1940s. Among numerous abuse allegations against him is one from that assignment, made 50 years later.

Even before reviewing the files, David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he expected they would reveal actions far beyond the geographic boundaries of the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

“I have no doubt there are victims and witnesses and whistleblowers with knowledge and suspicion of these priests who are now in every diocese of the state,” he told the News Tribune.

“These priests worked, traveled, lectured, vacationed and filled in for sick and vacationing priests all throughout the Wisconsin area.”

Milwaukee Archdiocese spokeswoman Julie Wolf said it’s difficult to determine a pattern from the voluminous records, such as any propensity by priests to molest children on trips.

“A lot of what you saw (in the files) happened years ago,” she said. “For those trips and those outings, today we have policies in place since the early 2000s to prevent that. While youth mission trips and outings can go on, it’s not a one-on-one situation. There are background checks.”

But Clohessy says the records, even of deceased priests, aren’t just historic artifacts.

“It’s possible that former Milwaukee church employees who concealed or committed abuse there are now working in other parts of Wisconsin,” he said. “It could be a former Milwaukee principal who’s now a principal in (the Northland), and not necessary still Catholic. People deserve to know who they are and what they’ve done.”

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