WI- Capuchins remove another priest with abuse history, why hasn’t the Milwaukee Archdiocese?

For immediate release: Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2014

Statement by Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director (Milwaukee) 414.429.7259

The Capuchin religious order announced today that it has removed from ministry for substantiated reports of child sexual abuse Fr. Robert Harrison, a priest who worked in the Milwaukee and New York Archdioceses as a social worker and youth minister.  Harrison, according to the Capuchins, has admitted to victims in both locations.

Harrison was transferred out of Milwaukee in the late 1970’s or early 1980’a and has been working as a priest, teacher and basketball coach at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx for at least 22 years. 

In Milwaukee, Harrison lived at or worked at St. Francis and St. Benedict the Moor parishes, the St. Francis Friary, and the Carmelite School for Boys in Wauwatosa and appears to have taught at St. Francis School and Messmer High School.

This case raises a lot of disturbing questions about how pedophile clergy like Harrison, who has admitted to multiple victims in at least two states, manage to evade detection and identification for so long and with so many years of public attention on the church sex abuse scandal.  Harrison should not be considered an anomaly, and the factors that led to his successful evasion of justice need to be confronted by church authorities.  It appears, although imperfectly, that the Capuchins are doing that. 

The Capuchins, in fact, have removed three priests who have worked or lived in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee over the past few years, after they made a very public commitment to review and release their abuse files, publically name known offenders, and reverse a history of often vilifying and aggressively deploying lawyers to intimidate and silence survivors that publically challenged their policies and practices concerning sexually and criminally abusive Capuchins.   

After many decades, the Capuchins may finally be seeing that the reckless, victim blaming, and lawyered response is exactly how not to deal with clergy sex crimes and it’s many victims.   The Archdiocese of Milwaukee, on the other hand, seem utterly unable or unwilling to change, as is clearly evidenced in the nearly four year old bankruptcy, where some 575 victims have been left languishing with little or no restitution, much less healing, in sight. 

More alarming for the public is that each one of these victims has filed a detailed history of the crimes committed against them as children.  Those hundreds of reports, now meaninglessly sealed in federal bankruptcy court and, absurdly, not in the possession of, say, the Wisconsin Attorney General, name at least one hundred never before identified alleged child sex offenders or abusers.  And yet, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, who is in possession of all these reports, amazingly, has not removed one of these alleged offenders from ministry or make their removal public, as the Capuchins have. 

This is exactly how Listecki behaved when he was Bishop of LaCrosse before coming to Milwaukee, and victims and victim advocates warned that his record was a cause for worry.  In fact, the LaCrosse diocese has “cleared” more priests with child rape, sexual assault or abuse allegations than any diocese in the United States, six time higher than the national average. 

The American Catholic Bishops themselves, in a study by the John Jay College for Criminal Justice, identified very, very few cases they considered false abuse allegations against priests. Would the Milwaukee Archdiocese have us believe that every single one of the hundreds of newly named reports of abuse in the Milwaukee bankruptcy are all false? 

Sadly, when it comes to handling sexual abuse cases among clergy, there are still very few “best practices” among Catholic institutions, especially, it seems, in Wisconsin.  The Capuchins recent efforts suggest that at least a few of them are maybe beginning to learn. 

SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We were founded in 1988 and have 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 and SNAPwisconsin.com.

Contact -  Peter Isely SNAP Midwest Director (Milwaukee) 414.429.7259;  David Clohessy, 314-566-9790, [email protected], Barbara Dorris 314-503-0003,[email protected], Barbara Blaine 312-399-4747, [email protected]  

Showing 1 comment

  • Iain Pattison
    commented 2015-01-06 18:35:38 -0600
    I hope the Capuchins keep going in the direction they have started, ie, real child protection. They have a long way to go yet but at least they have started. God will be pleased with them. As for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee all I can say is that they are extremely arrogant and have no real self respect or decency.

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