Auxiliary bishop withdraws from public ministry over handling of priest abuse case

Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Robert Morneau of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay gives an interview during a Rural Life Days blessing in Bear Creek, March 28, 2017. (WLUK image)

GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay has approved a request by retired auxiliary Bishop Robert Morneau for a withdrawal from public ministry for failing to report to civil authorities an incident of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest in 1979.

The details of the incident and diocese’s response are published in the newest edition of The Compass, the official diocesan newspaper.

Bishop David Ricken is expected to address the issue at a media event Friday morning. He recently released a multi-point plan for how the church will respond to the latest developments in the sexual abuse crisis.

The Compass published a copy of Morneau’s Sept. 14 letter to Ricken. It reads:

September 14, 2018
Dear Bishop Ricken,
I write to you today with a heavy heart and great sorrow. In light of the recent public revelations of past abuse in the church and the call for more accountability on the part of bishops, I feel that my own actions are no less subject to scrutiny than those of other bishops. 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. Because of this, I voluntarily request a withdrawal from all public ministry. I intend to spend my time in prayer for all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and I will do corporal works of mercy in reparation for what I failed to do.
Looking back, I should have handled this situation differently than I did at the time. At the time, I was asked by the family of the victim to arrange an apology from the offending priest, which I did. I felt at the time I had done what was asked of me by helping the parties to reconcile. The measures taken were ultimately insufficient to protect others from abuse from this same priest. I very much regret and apologize for this, especially to those victimized following my mistake in this regard.
I take full responsibility for my failures in this matter and ask for forgiveness and prayers for healing for all who were harmed. I apologize to all those who put their trust in me.
Peace in the Risen Lord,
The Most Reverend Robert F. Morneau
Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay

The Compass says the case relates to former priest David Boyea, who pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual assault of a child and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1985. According to the Wisconsin Sex Offender Registry, the case was prosecuted in Langlade County.

A letter from Bishop Ricken was also published. It reads:

September 17, 2018
Dear Friends in Christ,
In recent days, Bishop Robert Morneau, retired Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Green Bay requested a special meeting with me. He wanted to let me know that he was formally requesting a withdrawal from all public ministry because in 1979, he failed to report to authorities an incident of clergy abuse of a minor. It is important that I make this very clear, Bishop Morneau did not abuse children, and was never accused of having done so. Rather, he mishandled this allegation of abuse. Bishop Morneau felt at the time he had done what was asked of him by helping the parties to reconcile.
In light of the recent public revelations of abuse in the church and the call for more accountability on the part of bishops, Bishop Morneau feels great remorse over the fact that this same priest went on to abuse several other minors. He wants to right himself with God and the People of God.
I have now officially granted his request to “withdraw from public ministry” since his retirement was already accepted by the Holy See in 2013, at the required age of 75. In his withdrawal from public ministry Bishop Morneau will spend his time in prayer for all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and will do corporal works of mercy in reparation.
I have great respect for Bishop Morneau for his many years of service to those within and outside the diocese. Bishop Morneau is a good and faithful man who did what he felt was right at the time, realizing now that he could have and should have done more to protect the innocent.
I offer my prayers for continued strength and healing for all survivors of clergy abuse. We also pray for Bishop Morneau as he continues his journey.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend David L. Ricken, DD, JCL
Bishop of Green Bay

A civil lawsuit filed by three of Boyea’s victims against the diocese was settled in 1986, The Compass reports.

"We need openness. We need transparency. We need people to admit what they've done wrong," said Alice Hodek.

Shes a a volunteer with a support group for people abused by priests.

"I had the opportunity to meet Bishop Morneau back in the early '90s and I believed him to be a good man and a caring man and I still believe that. I think he's doing the right thing now," she said.

However, Hodek still has some concerns and wants to see change within the Catholic Church overall.

"The problem with the scandal that's come out of the Catholic Church is that it was a lot of collective individuals making the same mistakes and a system that perpetuated the cover up of child sexual abuse by clergy and facilitated more of it to happen."

Morneau turned 80 last week.

He was born in New London in 1938, and attended Bear Creek High School and St. Norbert College before attending Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

He was ordained to the priesthood in the Green Bay diocese in 1966, and served in a variety of roles.

He was ordained as an auxiliary bishop in early 1979.

In accordance with church policy, he submitted his resignation as bishop on his 75th birthday in 2013. He then served for a few years as pastor of Resurrection Church in Allouez.

St. Norbert College released the following statement about Morneau's withdrawal:

We are truly grateful for Bishop Morneau’s many years of service to the parishes, the college and our communities throughout Green Bay. We have deep respect for his decision to publicly accept responsibility for failing to report a sexual abuse allegation in 1979 in response to the church’s recent call for accountability.
Bishop Morneau’s decision to resign from public ministry represents an act of a faithful, honorable and remorseful leader who continues to do his best to serve others. We offer heartfelt prayers for Bishop Morneau and all survivors of clergy abuse.


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