Suspended La Crosse priest ejected from waterpark in '09

Umberger charged with possessing child pornography

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/July 16, 2010

A western Wisconsin priest arrested this week on a charge of child pornography had been ejected from a Wisconsin Dells waterpark last summer on suspicion of following little boys into the restroom, according to a police report filed at the time.

No charges were filed in the July 2009 incident involving Father Patrick Umberger, who served parishes in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee before moving to the La Crosse Diocese in 1996.

The incident, however, was the impetus for the investigation, according to the criminal complaint.

Umberger, 59, was charged Thursday in La Crosse County Circuit Court and released on a $10,000 signature bond.

According to the complaint, Umberger said that he was attracted to boys and young men but that he never had inappropriate contact with children in his 30 years as a priest. Among the images of children on his computer were three boys and possibly one girl in sexual poses, according to the complaint.

Umberger has been suspended from duties by the La Crosse Diocese. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

The waterpark incident occurred last July at Noah's Ark in the Wisconsin Dells.

According to the report, staff called the Lake Delton police after Umberger was seen repeatedly following young boys into the restroom in the kiddie pool area. Umberger told police he entered the restroom repeatedly because of a prostate problem.

Noah's Ark management rescinded his 2009 season pass and has since barred him from the park.

An attorney for the La Crosse Diocese said it investigated and "confirmed the legitimacy of the medical explanation."

The diocese was led at the time by Bishop Jerome Listecki, now archbishop of Milwaukee, who has come under fire for his handling of sex abuse cases there.

La Crosse attorney Jessica Kirchner and Milwaukee archdiocese spokeswoman Julie Wolf said they know of no other complaints involving Umberger.

Before moving to the La Crosse Diocese, Umberger had served as a deacon at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in West Allis and as an associate pastor at St. Mary Catholic Parish in Burlington, according to his website, and taught high school at St. Mary's.

Advocates for clergy sex abuse victims said Friday that the case bolsters their assertions that lax handling of clergy sex abuse allegations in La Crosse may have allowed abusive priests to remain in ministry.

"Constructing a maze of deniability for the top man, replete with Canon law firewalls ... is not an acceptable child abuse prevention policy," said John Pilmaier, spokesman for the Milwaukee chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

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