New WI high court signals it won't fix lawmakers child sex abuse statute
Found only in Wisconsin, current law favors child molesters who are not
"blood relatives" to victim
Bi-partisan "Child Victims Act" would eliminate bizarre legal distinction, permanently reform civil statute
Measure is backed by law enforcement but opposed by state's Catholic bishops
Statement by Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director (Milwaukee) 414.429.7259
Today the new Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to hear a civil case brought by a clergy child sex abuse victim from Green Bay, David
Schauer, signaling that they are not going to fix the current mess in Wisconsin's child sex abuse statutes, including a bizarre loophole for
child molesters who are not blood relatives to their victims.
Perhaps tossing the ball to the legislature was the sensible thing to do since that effort is already well underway. Late last term a bipartisan
bill was introduced, the Wisconsin Child Victims Act, which would, if passed, significantly correct the deep flaws in Wisconsin's child abuse statutes.
The bill, modeled on successful legislation passed in California and Delaware, would eliminate the archaic civil statute on child sex abuse
and open a two year window to grandfather in victims like Schuaer, who were raped as children but can't sue their attackers when they reach adulthood. It quickly and impressively garnered 35 Republican and Democratic co-sponsors, along with the strong support of every major law enforcement organization in the state.
The state's Roman Catholic Bishops, however, oppose the bill and want the strange "blood-relative" provision to stand.Why?
The bizarre distinction in the state's child sex abuse laws, which the Child Victims Act would effectively eliminate, was created in the
mid-1990's as an escape hatch from accountability and liability for Wisconsin's powerful Catholic bishops. Since most clergy are not blood
relatives to their victims and since you can't make a law which singles out clergy for preferential treatment, why not create a distinction that would cover abusive clergy by default?
No other state in the country makes such a distinction, one which effectively creates a two-tier and unequal set of laws for child victims
of sexual assault.The Child Victims Act would change that.The court's decision, however, while it may force the legislature to act, will not help Schauer and his family, who will receive no compensation for his injuries as a child or force the church officials and bishops responsible for the abuse to answer questions under oath and hand over secret documents.
This is particularly unjust in Schauer's case because it was Schauer and his parents who reported his attacker, Fr. Donald Buzanowski, to church authorities when Schauer was 12 years old. Those authorities, instead of removing Buzanowski from the priesthood—who later admitted to raping at least 14 other boys—covered up his crimes and spirited him away from Green Bay to Milwaukee where he would work with children as a counselor for at least ten more years until Schauer and his family came forward again, this time to law enforcement, not the bishop.
It was Schauer's incredible and courageous persistence as an adult which led to Buzanowski's arrest and conviction in Brown County in 2005. Because of Schauer's bravery, the doors of prison were finally kicked open and Buzanowksi was tossed in where he belongs.
But the doors to justice were shut today on Schauer himself.That cannot be allowed to happen to another child victim of rape or
sexual abuse ever again in the state of Wisconsin. And passing the Child Victims Act will go a long way to guarantee it won't.
TUESDAY, Sept. 2, 2008, 3:29 p.m.
By Steven Schultze
Supreme Court declines to hear abuse case
The state Supreme Court today ended a longstanding lawsuit against the Green Bay Catholic Diocese over the sexual abuse of a 10-year-old boy by a priest at a parish school in 1988.
The high court declined to take up the appeal of David Schauer, now 30 and living in Arizona, who said church officials had known about the abuse and warned his parents not to take any action at the time. Schauer initially lost his case in Circuit Court, but won a review by the state Court of Appeals. The diocese appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.Schauer argued that the time limit that normally applies for filing civil lawsuits should be waived because a church official warned Schauer's mother in 1990 against taking any legal action.
The action by the Supreme Court ends Schauer's lawsuit, which was filed five years ago, said Jeff Anderson, Schauer's lawyer. He called the high court's refusal to take up the case "heartbreaking."He called Wisconsin's law governing clergy abuse lawsuits one of the
most restrictive in the U.S. Schauer once rejected an offer by the diocese to settle the case for $400,000, Anderson said.
Patrick Brennan, a Milwaukee attorney who represented the Green Bay Diocese in the case, could not be reached for comment. Church officials also were unavailable for comment.
Donald Buzanowki, a former priest, is serving a prison sentence on two felony child sexual assault convictions for molesting Schauer at SS.
Peter and Paul Catholic School in Green Bay. A criminal investigation on Schauer's abuse was reopened in 2003 following publication of a Journal Sentinel story that included Buzanowski's written admission of having molested 14 boys.