Retired bishop says he failed to report priest abuse, withdraws from public ministry

Published: Sep. 20, 2018 at 2:10 PM CDT
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A retired Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay Bishop has withdrawn from public ministry, saying he regrets his failure to report the abuse of a minor by a priest.

Diocese newspaper "The Compass" printed a letter from Bishop Robert Morneau to current Bishop David Ricken. Morneau says, "I failed to report to local authorities an incident of abuse of a minor by a priest in 1979 and, as a result, this priest was able to abuse again several years later."

Morneau continued, "I intend to spend my time in prayer for all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and I will do corporal works of mercy in reparation for what I failed to do."

"The Compass" reports Morneau is referencing the case of former priest David Boyea. Boyea was convicted of first degree sexual assault of a child in 1985.

Boyea was ordained in 1973. Morneau was bishop in 1979.

"Looking back, I should have handled this situation differently than I did at the time. At the time, I was asked by the family of the victim to arrange an apology from the offending priest, which I did. I felt at the time I had done what was asked of me by helping the parties to reconcile," Morneau said.

"The measures taken were ultimately insufficient to protect others from abuse from this same priest. I very much regret and apologize for this, especially to those victimized following my mistake in this regard."

"The Compass" also printed a letter from Bishop Ricken confirmed that he had granted Morneau's request to withdraw from public ministry.

"Bishop Morneau is a good and faithful man who did what he felt was right at the time, realizing now that he could have and should have done more to protect the innocent.," Ricken writes.

In 1986, a $12 million civil suit was filed by three of Boyea's victims. Morneau was named as one of the defendants. The suit was settled but terms were not announced.

Bishop Morneau reached retirement age in 2013, and his retirement was accepted by Pope Francis.

Morneau was given the title of Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus. After his retirement, he agreed to remain a pastor at Resurrection Parish in Allouez.

Action 2 News spoke with a member of the Green Bay Diocese and longtime friend of Bishop Morneau, who was quick to speak of his character.

“He's a wonderful man. I don't know one person who doesn't, who does not like him. And I mean that,” says Deacon Paul Umentum. “And it appears to me like he did the right thing now by resigning. I think it, well for standing up for what he did and resigning is a real honorable thing.”

Action 2 News reached out to the Green Bay Diocese, where representatives chose not to comment. Instead, they instructed our new crews to attend a press conference Friday morning at 10:30.

Green Bay Diocese news conference

Green Bay Bishop David Ricken is holding a press conference. He will address a retired bishop's withdrawal from public ministry over the handling of a sex abuse case.

Posted by WBAY TV-2 on Friday, September 21, 2018

Statement from St. Norbert College


“We are truly grateful for Bishop Morneau’s many years of service to the parishes, the college and our communities throughout Green Bay. We have deep respect for his decision to publicly accept responsibility for failing to report a sexual abuse allegation in 1979 in response to the church’s recent call for accountability. 

"Bishop Morneau’s decision to resign from public ministry represents an act of a faithful, honorable and remorseful leader who continues to do his best to serve others.  We offer heartfelt prayers for Bishop Morneau and all survivors of clergy abuse.”