WI--New Superior bishop has big job ahead
For immediate release: Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015
The Vatican has named a new bishop of Superior Wisconsin. He has big shoes to fill and one gaping injustice to correct.
We wish Bishop James Powers well. But his predecessor, Bishop Peter Christensen, is one of only a few US Catholic bishops who our organization has praised, largely for his actions in one egregious abuse case.
In 2009, a priest working in Superior was accused of molesting a teen, impregnating an adult parishioner twice, suggesting an abortion, fathering a child and ignoring that child. When these charges were laid out on page one of the New York Times, Catholic officials suspended the priest and claimed they would investigate. But no signs of any supposed investigation have ever been seen nor any results of any supposed investigation ever been announced.
The whereabouts and status of that cleric, Fr. Henry Willenborg, is unknown. That’s unconscionable. Police, prosecutors, parents, and parishioners deserve the truth. What if he sexually abused a child or sexually exploited an adult while he worked in Wisconsin too?
Fr. Willenborg’s direct supervisors, the Franciscans, are hiding both the truth and the priest. But that doesn’t prevent Superior Catholic officials from publicly disclosing what they know about Fr. Willenborg or launching their own investigation.
We beg Bishop Powers to reveal what he knows about Fr. Willenborg and to aggressively seek out others who may have been hurt by this dangerous priest. Powers should personally visit every parish where Fr. Willenborg worked, prodding victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to step forward and call law enforcement. He should put announcements with the same message in every parish bulletin in the diocese. That’s what a caring shepherd would do.
Finally, we also hope Bishop Powers will do what 30 US bishops have done: post names of predator priests on his website. This is the absolutely bare minimum a bishop should do to expose the truth, protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded.
Sadly, the culture of secrecy and cover up in Catholic dioceses is long-standing and tenacious. No matter who heads a particular diocese, it will take continued and increased vigilance and skepticism and courage to protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded.
Regardless of what Bishop Powers may say or do, we hope that anyone who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes or other misdeeds will continue to come forward, call police, protect others and start healing. It’s crucial that knowledge or suspicions about possible clergy sex crimes or cover ups be reported to the independent, experienced secular authorities like police and prosecutors, no matter when the alleged wrongdoing may have happened.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
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