Judge dismisses two lawsuits filed against Milwaukee archdiocese

Associated Press/June 4, 2005

Milwaukee -- A judge dismissed two fraud lawsuits Monday filed against the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee by people who say a priest abused them during the 1970s.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Michael D. Guolee ruled the statute of limitations had run out in the case. The three accusers say they were abused between 1973 and 1976 by the Rev. Siegfried Widera, who was accused of abuse in California.

Their attorney argued the clock on the limitations began running when news reports surfaced in 2003 about Widera's conviction 30 years earlier of sexual perversion with a teenager in Wisconsin.

Attorney Jeff Anderson said he plans to appeal the decision.

The accusers say the abuse occurred after Widera was convicted and after the archdiocese transferred him to a Delavan parish from Port Washington without warning the public, according to one of the lawsuits.

Anderson said the church was liable for not telling parishioners about Widera's past and should not benefit from concealing its knowledge.

"They're the ones that caused the passage of time," Anderson said, "and so the public policy of this state protects predators, and it protects those who protect them."

Archdiocese attorney John Rothstein said the case is no different than others in which state law sets a statute of limitations with a clock that starts running when an incident happens.

"These are all unfortunate cases," Rothstein said.

Widera faced 42 counts of child molestation in California and Wisconsin when he died in 2003 after leaping from a hotel balcony in Mexico.

A third fraud lawsuit in pending in another judge's court over similar alleged 1970s molestation by a different priest.

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