Archbishop Suggests Marsicek Should Have Been Removed
Citing reports of repeated concerns about Father Robert Marsicek, Listecki writes that, ‘collectively they call into question allowing this priest to remain serving as pastor of two parishes, each with schools or daycare programs.’
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.
Pius X Priest Had Been Warned Repeatedly About Physical Contact: Police Reports
Police reports detail allegations by Wauwatosa Catholic School teacher that Father Robert Marsicek inappropriately touched student on two occasions while holding her on his lap in her classroom.
Father Robert Marsicek was the subject of a number of complaints about overt physical contact with children over a decade and had repeatedly promised to reduce his contact with students.
That was before incidents on March 22 and 26 that led to a police investigation, according to Wauwatosa police reports.
Detectives investigating the recent allegations from a teacher at Wauwatosa Catholic School learned that a former parish principal and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee had records dating to 2004 of parental concerns that Marsicek’s physical contact with children went beyond comfortable boundaries.
Marsicek, 71, responded to the police inquiry that his physicality with children is an outgrowth of his own demonstative nature and the children’s warm spirits and has never been for sexual gratification.
But the child in question told officers that on at least one of the occasions, Marsicek had touched and squeezed her breasts, the reports say.
Police sought criminal charges of first-degree sexual assault of a child, but a Milwaukee County assistant district attorney declined, saying he did not believe he could prove criminal behavior.
Teacher reports touching in her classroom
The police investigation was prompted by reports by a teacher to her principal, Heidi Hernandez, that she had twice observed Marsicek touching a child in her classroom in ways she felt was inappropriate.
On March 22, she said, her class was watching the Wisconsin men’s basketball NCAA tournament game when, at about 12:30 p.m., Marsicek entered her classroom. After greeting all the kids, she said, Marsicek sat down in a chair at a student’s desk and then allowed her to sit on his lap, straddling and facing him.
The teacher said that another adult in the room – that person’s identity in redacted from the reports – said to her, “Don’t you think it’s creepy that Father Bob is always touching and hugging on kids?”
The teacher said she agreed and decided to keep an eye on Marsicek. She later told Hernandez and police investigators that while the girl was on his lap, Marsicek had his hands on her buttocks for one to two minutes and then began squeezing her buttocks for about 30 seconds. A fire drill then interrupted the class, she said.
On March 26, she said, Marsicek again came to her classroom at about 1:45 p.m. while her students were working on math. For about five to 10 minutes, she said, Marsicek interacted with several children before going to the same girl’s desk.
The teacher said this time Marsicek stood next to the girl’s chair, leaning over while apparently helping her with a math problem. Marsicek put one hand around her and held her shoulder, she said, and placed his other hand on her upper thigh. She said his hand was about 2 inches from her genital area and that she observed him squeezing her thigh for about five minutes.
Later in that session, Marsicek again let the same girl sit on his lap, straddling and facing him, the teacher said. She said she again saw him put one hand on the child’s buttock. She could not see his other hand, she said.
When Marsicek happened to look up and made eye contact with her, she said, he quickly dropped both hands to his sides.
Principal, administrator decide to call police
The teacher took her concerns about both incidents to Hernandez at the end of the school day, and Hernandez informed Dean Weyer, director of adminstrative services of Wauwatosa Catholic. They agreed to meet in the morning to discuss the proper procedures to follow.
On March 27, Weyer informed Hernandez of an incident in 2011 in which the Archdiocese had been notified and Marsicek’s “closeness” with children was discussed. He told Hernandez that Marsicek had been counseled about his behavior with children and that there were no other consequences.
Hernandez and Weyer decided their teacher’s report warranted a police investigation. A male officer spoke to them first and then summoned a female officer trained in sensitive crime investigation.
The teacher gave that officer the same version of events she had told Hernandez. She then met with the girl’s parents and told them of the allegations. They said that their daughter had not mentioned any contact with Marsicek and they had noticed no changes in her behavior.
The officer again interviewed Hernandez and Weyer, her report says, and asked for any more details about the 2011 incident he had referred to Hernandez. He told her that it was similar in nature – that parents had complained about Marsicek having children sit on his lap and that he had touched them inappropriately while doing so.
Marsicek barred from school, parishes
At this point, the officer updated her supervisor, who told her to contact Marsicek and tell him to stay away from Wauwatosa Catholic School and Mother of Good Counsel in Milwaukee, where he was also pastor.
When contacted and informed of the order, the officer said, Marsicek said, “OK,” and when asked whether he had any questions, replied, “No, you have a job to do,” and said goodbye.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee, informed of the investigation, also removed Marsicek from all duties at Pius X Church and directed him to leave the premises and take up residence under supervision at the Provinciate of the Society of the Divine Savior in Milwaukee.
The child involved told interviewers at the CARE Center in Waukesha County, with Wauwatosa police officers observing, how one occasion while she sat on Marsicek’s lap, he had touched or held her on the knees, thighs, waist and breasts – which she referred to as her “heart.”
On a front-and-back diagram of a girl’s body, she circled both the front and back of the thighs, the waist, and the left breast. When asked about Marsicek touching her “heart” and how he had touched her, she made a squeezing motion with her hand.
Marsicek denies all allegations and complaints
Marsicek, presented with the allegations, denied that any of his contact with children was ever of a sexual nature or for gratification. He told officers that his recollection of the March 22 incident was that the girl was “precocious” and had simply wanted to sit on his lap.
As to the March 26 instance, he said he remembered kneeling by the girl while helping her with a math problem but denied touching her. Later in the session, he said, she had sat on his lap and was squirmy, and he may have held her to keep her upright.
Asked if he might have touched or held her buttocks, he said, “Yes, I would suppose, sure,” but that it would have been only to keep her from falling off his lap.
Marsicek, in a general statement, said that he was not sexually attracted to children, that he had never intentionally touched a child in a sexual manner, and that any touching he did of the particular girl in question was not for sexual gratification.
Marsicek said he was attracted to children because of their “loveableness,” their beauty, exuberance and enthusiasm.
Priest was warned and counseled
Detectives went on to investigate records of the parishes involved, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Salvatorian Order, of which Marsicek is a member.
In December 2004, a parent made an allegation to an administrator then at Pius X School, before it was merged into Wauwatosa Catholic. That complaint rose above the level of a mere concern, records showed, and did allege inappropriate, indecent touching of a child in a similar fashion to the recent allegations.
School officials discussed it with the parents and the child and did not at that time forward it to the Archdiocese, the Salvatorians or the police, reports say.
Records revealed that in 2005 a memo was placed in Marsicek’s file and a letter sent to then Archbishop Timothy Dolan regarding complaints from “some parents” about Marsicek’s “playfulness” with children. There was no allegation of sexually inappropriate behavior, and Marsicek was instructed to re-read the Code of Ethical Standards.
In 2011 and again in 2012 Marsicek was counseled about further complaints about his “boundary behavior” with children, including from witnesses who said he was overly physical with children at skating parties.
An e-mail from parents to a Wauwatosa Catholic official in September 2011 said they were concerned for their own and others’ children, in particular at a weekend skate party.
They said they believed he showed poor boundaries regarding physical contact, playing “body games” with kids, such as tickling and holding them by their arms and legs.
At the skating event, they said, they were astonished at how often Marsicek was seen “nuzzled” up to children, including their own.
Marsicek on at least two occasions promised to avoid skating parties in future and to re-evaluate his physical behavior with children.
Charges sought by police but not filed by DA
During the course of their investigation, Wauwatosa police learned through the Salvatorian Order of allegations also being investigated in California, in which two boys were said to have been sexually abused by Marsicek while he was founding pastor of Divine Savior Parish in Orangevale, CA.
Those complaints are currently under investigation by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office.
Based on their investigation, Wauwatosa police presented the case to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office seeking charges of first-degree sexual assault of a child.
After reviewing the case, an assistant district attorney informed police that he would not be issuing charges because he did not believe he could prove that Marsicek’s behavior was criminal.