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Article updated: 4/19/2013 5:07 PM

Wisconsin priest subject of multiple complaints

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By Associated Press

WAUWATOSA, Wis. -- A Catholic priest who was suspended after a teacher reported what she considered inappropriate contact with a child is the subject of numerous complaints, according to police in suburban Milwaukee.

The Rev. Robert Marsicek, who served at St. Pius X Parish in Wauwatosa and Mother of Good Counsel in Milwaukee, has been on leave since March 28 after a Wauwatosa Catholic School teacher reported the contact.

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The 71-year-old has been subject of numerous complaints by parents and others over the years, according to a Wauwatosa police report obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Two Milwaukee archbishops had been made aware of other complaints -- Archbishop Jerome Listecki in June and then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan, now cardinal and archbishop of New York, in 2005.

Marsicek had been repeatedly counseled by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and his religious order, the Society of the Divine Savior, or Salvatorians, about "boundary issues" and was told to stop hugging and touching children.

Archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said boundary issues are not cause to remove a priest from ministry, and the archdiocese responded properly to every report.

"Boundary issues are NOT sexual abuse," Topczewski wrote in an email.

The term "boundary issues" covers a broad array of behaviors, verbal and physical, that may or may not be sexual, said Jim Freiberger, a psychologist who has counseled sex abuse victims and served on a sex abuse review board for religious orders. But Freiberger said that intent is often hard to prove.

According to the police report, the teacher said on separate occasions she saw Marsicek squeeze the buttocks of the child who was sitting on his lap, facing Marsicek, and place his hand on the child's upper thigh "near her private parts" while whispering in her ear.

In a forensic interview, the child indicated, with the help of a diagram of a body, that Marsicek had touched her on the front and back of both thighs, her waist and squeezed the area of her breast.

The Wauwatosa police report also mentioned a California allegation, which was brought to the attention of the Sacramento Diocese by a mother who believes her sons were molested by Marsicek in the 1990s. One son told his mother that he was sexually abused during camping trips. Marsicek was a Boy Scout chaplain for the diocese beginning in 1990.

Marsicek told Wauwatosa detectives that he is not sexually attracted to children, but merely affectionate, and that any inappropriate touching was inadvertent. He said he had been asked repeatedly by parents to stop hugging their children, picking them up and allowing them to sit on his lap.

The principal of Wauwatosa Catholic sent a letter to parents Wednesday, saying school officials were never told about the California investigation, which the archdiocese and the Salvatorians, had known about since May.

Salvatorian Provincial Father Joseph Rodrigues also issued a letter to families saying allegations of abuse or inappropriate contact are always "complex situations" and no allegation against Marsicek had ever been substantiated.

Rodrigues issued a statement on Friday, saying he learned the Sacramento allegation was made 10 months ago by a third party and at that time the victim was refusing to talk to authorities. He said the Salvatorians are cooperating with California authorities and have to keep some details confidential until investigators make a determination.

"I have zero tolerance for sexual abuse. Zero," Rodrigues said. "If a priest or brother on my watch is charged with a crime, they are removed from public ministry."

The Milwaukee County district attorney's office declined to criminally charge Marsicek; the Salvatorians are conducting their own review.

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