DULUTH, Minn. — Incidents of child sex abuse by priests often occurred on overnight trips, according to documents released by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Of 42 priest files reviewed by The Duluth News Tribune, 22 contain references to molestation on camping trips, a cross-state bicycle ride and at least one Caribbean cruise, the newspaper reported Tuesday (http://bit.ly/1aCqIFN ).
The incidents described weren't limited to southeastern Wisconsin. They occurred from Chicago to California to the Caribbean, as well as northern Wisconsin, the newspaper found.
Milwaukee Archdiocese spokeswoman Julie Wolf said it's difficult to determine patterns from the voluminous records that were released Monday, such as any propensity by priests to molest children while traveling.
"A lot of what you saw (in the files) happened years ago," she said. "For those trips and those outings, today we have policies in place since the early 2000s to prevent that. While youth mission trips and outings can go on, it's not a one-on-one situation. There are background checks."
The geographic details in the files aren't always specific. Many incidents are noted vaguely as occurring "up north" — a generalization that the newspaper said sometimes refers to suburban Milwaukee, sometimes Wisconsin's northern counties, but is more often left unspecified.
"When (name redacted) was in 7th grade, (redacted) felt uneasy about the amount of time (he) spent alone with Fr. Jablonowski, including at his private quarters and place up north," reads the file on the Rev. James Jablonowski.
According to another file: "(Name redacted) states that when he was in (redacted) grade, 1979, Father James Beck took him on a camping trip near Ladysmith, Wisconsin. He states that Beck molested him on this camping trip."
Beck, who agreed to give up his priesthood and was placed on permanent leave in 1995 after multiple allegations, was an associate pastor in suburban Milwaukee at the time. According to the files, his parents had a house near Ladysmith, in northwestern Wisconsin, where similar abuse was also alleged.
The file for the Rev. Franklyn Becker reads: "(A church worker) objected to the fact that he took a Caribbean vacation at the height of the parish business," adding, "Worse yet, he took along a 7th or 8th grade child which has shocked many people."
Becker was an associate pastor at a Milwaukee parish in 1982 when he secured a one-week chaplaincy on a Caribbean cruise and took the boy along. Though he admitted sharing his cabin with the boy, and conceded to bad judgment, he denied anything sexual happened. He also had received approval from the boy's parents.
"Parents were proud that their son was chosen to serve as an altar boy on a cruise where their priest was going to be the chaplain and so they gave permission," the file states.
Becker regularly sought employment in as a cruise chaplain in the 1990s, which raised the ire of church officials, the documents show. He has been accused of molesting numerous children in Milwaukee, on trips and during a temporary assignment in the Diocese of San Diego. A 2006 settlement, in which the archdiocese agreed to pay more than $16 million to 10 victims in California, included one who had been abused by Becker.
The Rev. Michael Neuberger was also a frequent traveler. The records document him taking children, including those from an orphanage, on overnight trips to Minneapolis and Baton Rouge, beginning in the 1960s. He also took children on trips in Wisconsin to Wisconsin Dells, Wolf River, the Flambeau Flowage and Boulder Junction, the records show.
Even before reviewing the files, David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he expected they would reveal actions far beyond the geographic boundaries of the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
"These priests worked, traveled, lectured, vacationed and filled in for sick and vacationing priests all throughout the Wisconsin area," he told the News Tribune.