Bishop Ricken meets with media

Press briefing gives opportunity to discuss Bishop Morneau letter

ALLOUEZ – The Diocese of Green Bay will soon hire an independent agency to review all priest files, according to Bishop David Ricken. He made the announcement during a press briefing Sept. 21 on the diocesan campus.

The briefing was held to answer questions about Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Robert Morneau’s letter, published Sept. 21 in The Compass, in which the bishop announced his withdrawl from public ministry. Bishop Ricken also read his letter in response to Bishop Morneau’s letter and answered questions.

Bishop David Ricken answers questions from reporters gathered at the diocesan offices Sept. 21. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

In his letter dated Sept. 14, Bishop Morneau stated: “I failed to report to local authorities an incident of abuse of a minor by a priest in 1979 and, as a result, this priest was able to abuse again several years later.”

That former priest, David Boyea, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1985 and was removed from the priesthood in 1990.

Bishop Ricken said Bishop Morneau decided to withdraw from public ministry after the grand jury report in Pennsylvania was released. “He’s 80 years old now and he’s wanting to make sure that somehow he was making up for that poor decision to not report at that time,” Bishop Ricken said, adding that Bishop Morneau is presently on retreat “to prepare for this next phase of his life.”

The Pennsylvania report “made him question again something that he had done in 1979,” Bishop Ricken said. “At that time there was no mandatory reporting in the state. At that time also, there were no policies in the diocese. … He failed to report, though, and that led to other children being abused by this same priest. So that’s why he feels terribly remorseful and he wants to take this on himself to make amends, to repair the damage spiritually the best he can by prayer and doing acts of charity.”

Bishop Ricken said the diocese contacted Boyea’s victims and their families before announcing Bishop Morneau’s decision. “Some of the victims and their families are deceased. The ones living we’ve made contact with. For some of them, this has been dealt with and moved on. For others, the hurt is still there,” he said.

In response to a question, Bishop Ricken said Bishop Morneau first informed him about the Boyea case in August. For this reason, he said, “it causes us to review our procedures, how these things are reviewed.”

He said one of his action steps to accountability, which were published in the Sept. 14 issue of The Compass, is to make priest files accessible for complete review by the diocese’s Independent Review Board. This review has now been completed. “We are now going to invite an outside investigator to come in and review all of the files to see if we have missed anything,” he said.

Bishop Ricken said the diocese is not aware of other former bishops or priests failing to report incidents. “That is why we’re inviting this external firm to come in,” he said.

According to Bishop Ricken, most priests serving the diocese “are good and very dedicated. They are striving to get through this. They have to be there for their people. Sometimes they feel great shame and judgment.”

He has had one listening session with his priests and will meet with them again in October at a Clergy Congress. “This is very hard on them, as you can imagine,” he said. “The actions of a few have made it very difficult for all of us.”

Bishop Ricken said that the clergy sexual abuse crisis is “a much broader problem than just the Catholic Church. This is more of a human problem.”

However, he added, “I’m not taking responsibility away from us. We are expected to be above this. People hold us in high expectation and they deserve it. The church needs to be trusted, it needs to have integrity and be who we say we are. If we’re not, we have to accountable for that.”

He said the listening sessions outlined in the action steps to accountability give Catholics an opportunity to express their concerns. The remaining sessions are:

  • Tuesday, Sept. 25, 6-7:30 p.m., Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 1307 Lourdes Ave., De Pere
  • Wednesday, Sept. 26, 10-11:30 a.m., St. Mary of the Lake Church, 15232 County Road F, Lakewood
  • Thursday, Sept. 27, 10-11:30 a.m., St. Francis and St. Mary Church, 9716 Cemetery Road, Brussels
  • Thursday, Oct. 4, 6-7:30 p.m., St Thomas the Apostle Church, 8100 Brunner Road, Newton