Priests cleared in sexual abuse allegations

Sacred Hearts Church in Franklin, WI was the site of an investigation involving sexual abuse. Photo by Erin Caughey/ [email protected]

Two priests at the nearby, Franklin, Wis.-based Priests of the Sacred Heart were recently cleared of sexual abuse allegations by Father Tom Cassidy, provincial superior of the Catholic U.S. Province. Civil charges are still pending.

Fathers William Pitcavage and Thomas Lind were among several priests accused of inappropriate behavior with minors at a South Dakota school in the 1970s.

Cassidy said in an e-mail that authorities did not issue criminal charges, but civil litigation is now before the Superior Court of South Dakota on a motion to dismiss.

The official decision was made by Cassidy, but not without thorough investigation and thought, he said.

Amy Peterson, spokesperson for Priests of the Sacred Heart, said sexual assault allegations are not taken lightly.

In 2002, a doctrine called “Instruments of Hope and Healing” was developed by the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, an organization comprising all male Catholic religious communities in the continental United States designed to assist in the protection of youth and abuse.

As a statute, Peterson said each chapter of Priests of the Sacred Heart must have a review board.  The Milwaukee Area Review Board assisted in the allegations against Pitcavage and Lind.

“The review board acts like an advisor,” Peterson said. “We cannot make decisions – that is the provincial’s job – but we help compile the evidence, look at it and then present it to the provincial and suggest what should be done. The provincial then says whether it can be substantiated or not.”

Cassidy also stressed the importance and involvement of the review board.

“When there are allegations of alleged abuse, the Priests of the Sacred Heart, as are other religious communities, are bound by the directives of Praesidum (a Catholic legislative body),” Cassidy said.  “Use of a review board is one of those directives.”

“(My conclusions) were that the allegations against these two men were neither credible nor established,” Cassidy continued. “Because of this, it was also my conclusion that these two men should be returned to public ministry.  This is what I said to the Milwaukee Area Review Board. The board then stated in writing that it was ‘comfortable with the conclusions presented.’”

Cassidy said the review board is another step that he and other religious superiors and bishops like to take in order to better ensure the safety of children and adults when such sexual accusations are made.

Peterson clarified that review boards as well as provincials are not allowed to go against law enforcement; only if law enforcement cannot prosecute can the review board begin an internal investigation.

The Milwaukee Area Review Board began its internal investigation with a private, retired Milwaukee Police Department officer to help investigate, as well as independent psychological assessments, Peterson said.

Through this evidence, Cassidy said, he made his executive decision.

Cassidy said he knows all members of Priests of the Sacred Heart, but did not let that cloud his decision.

“I feel that my conclusions were based on an excellent investigative process,” he said.