Brave survivor shut out by SOL works for change

Today’s Sunday Kenosha News featured a major set of stories on survivors of clergy sexual abuse and the newly formalized Survivors and Clergy Leadership Alliance (SCLA).  Monica Barrett, a co-founder of the Alliance, and her inspiring story below:

 Priests, survivors form alliance

When Peter Isely, the Midwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, asked Monica Barrett to sit alongside priests and help form a cooperative alliance, Barrett thought “he had lost it.”

Her initial reaction was, “You want me to sit down with a bunch of priests? Are you off your freakin’ rocker?”

“When I went into it, it was half-hearted,” admits Barrett, a victim of clergy abuse as a child. “I really believed they (clergy) were all bad.”

Isely assured her there are priests who will speak out on behalf of survivors. She now works with them as part of the Survivor and Clergy Leadership Alliance, members of which applied for non-profit status in August, nearly three years following the first joint meeting.

“There are clergy of integrity who are in this vocation for the right reasons,” she said. “This is one of the biggest revelations I have had since joining the alliance. I realize that these priests have been lied to as well. They were used, too.”

SCLA (leaders) meets every four to six weeks, said Barrett.

“The only way to heal and resolve this once and for all is for everyone to come together,” she said. “Every survivor wants to know this is not going to happen to another child, that there will not be another generation of victim-survivors behind us.”

It includes retired and active clergy members.

“They don’t agree with how the victims were treated and they are ashamed of the church’s response,” Barrett said of the clergy involved.

The group is made up of victim-survivors who are in different places in their journey. Some still consider themselves Catholic — who participate peripherally or who are very much involved in their congregations.

“And there are people like me who would just as soon walk across glass than set foot in a church,” she said. “The diversity keeps you mindful that you need to respect everyone’s position.”

Barrett said the SCLA seeks justice for survivors, safety for children and support for clergy of integrity. The mission is to address the impact sexual abuse by clergy has had on both survivors and parishioners in the Archidiocese of Milwaukee, effect change through mutual activitism and strive for accountibility.

Its four-step strategy aims to:

— Maintain a safe environment for collaboration among the survivors and clergy members who are committed to radical and systemic change.

— Hold the hierarchy accountable by publicly advocating for full disclosure of all documents, evidence and material related to clerical sexual abuse.

— Provide education, information and professional training to support survivors and prevent future violence against children.

— Collaborate with local, national and international child protective organizations seeking legislation to ensure safety of children.

“It really is time for this type of approach,” Barrett said. “I am hopeful we will be able to accomplish these goals.”

To contact the SCLA, call Peter Isely at 414-42-7529 or email Barrett can be reached at 414-704-6074 or

‘I remember wishing I could die and wondering why God wasn’t coming to help me’




Monica Barrett, 52, brought moral support with her Oct. 8 when she returned for the first time to the church where she said she was sexually abused at age 8 by the Rev. William Effinger.

“I wasn’t sure how it would affect me,” Barrett, who grew up in Kenosha and attended parochial schools there, said.

St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Lake Geneva looks different than it did that Saturday afternoon in 1968. But the white rectory where the alleged act took place and the tree Barrett remembers crying beneath are still there.

“He kept saying, ‘You’re no good. You’re no good,’” she recalled. “He stood up, smoothed his hair back and said, ‘If you tell anyone, they won’t believe you’ and then he gave me penance to do.”

“It was violent,” she said. “I remember wishing I could die and wondering why God wasn’t coming to help me. I went outside by the big tree near the rectory and cried.”

Friend of family

Effinger was a friend of Barrett’s father and a face she saw daily at St. Mary’s school in Kenosha thereafter.

Decades later, when reports of sexual abuse of other children by Effinger emerged, Barrett went to a Kenosha priest and was referred to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

“They were clearly prepared for me,” Barrett said of the first meeting at the archdiocese. “(Archbishop Rembert) Weakland put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll take care of this. You don’t have to talk about it anymore.’”

She waited. Unsatisfied with their response, Barrett filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese. This led to a battery of interviews by church-picked psychologists, and attorneys deposed everyone she knew — even those she had yet to tell of the abuse.

The case was dismissed due to the statute of limitations. Barrett appealed, but the appeal was dismissed based on the Pritzlaff decision.

Pritzlaff v. Archdiocese of Milwaukee was decided by the state Supreme Court on June 27, 1995. The suit involved an adult woman who sued the archdiocese for $3 million for suffering she underwent as a result of an affair she had with a priest as an adult. Judith M. Pritzlaff said the affair, which had started in 1959, wrecked her marriage and caused other problems.

“The Pritzlaff decision had nothing to do with assaults on children,” Barrett said. “I felt like I was raped all over again.”

Effinger, the assistant pastor at St. Mary’s in Kenosha in the 1960s, allegedly molested several children. He was convicted in 1993 of second-degree sexual assault of a boy. He died in prison in 1996.

Church leaders knew

The archdiocese recently released 178 pages on Effinger as part of its bankruptcy proceedings. The records show church leaders had knowledge of the allegations against Effinger, who they transferred from parish to parish.

Included in the documents is a 1998 letter from Weakland in which he writes he had “no real excuse” for transferring Effinger to other parishes and that it was “bad judgment on his part.”

Only one sentence about Barrett is included in the documents that were released, proving, she said, there is much more that needs to be released.

Shattered faith

“This whole experience has shattered my sense of faith,” Barrett said. “I do not attend Catholic church. I cannot be involved in a religion whose leaders react to such deep and profound hurt with denial, anger and revictimization. It is no place for me to find spirituality.”

She tried other denominations and is now exploring spirituality though the study of Native American beliefs.

She is continuing her fight for full disclosure and to effect systemic change within the archdiocese as a founding member of a new group called the Survivor and Clergy Leadership Alliance.

Fighting clergy abuse: Victim-survivors call for full disclosure, change within Catholic Church

Published 21 hours ago


The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has made strides in preventing future sexual abuse of children by clergy.

But it can do more to correct the wrongs of the past and prevent further crimes, said two local women who were abused by priests serving in Kenosha churches decades ago.

Donna Polencheck and Monica Barrett are just two of hundreds of survivors of clergy abuse who are calling for:

— The release of all the documents related to reports of sexual abuse by clergy.

— Those who knew about the abuse to be held accountable.

— More systemic change to help prevent future abuse.

— Financial transparency.

The archdiocese released about 6,000 pages of documents in July as part of a deal reached in federal bankruptcy court. Victims said the files only “scratch the surface.”

“They need to release all of the documents, in all of the files of all the offenders,” Barrett said. “Healing will never happen until the archdiocese accepts responsibility and accountability for these crimes.”

The documents detail the transfer of known abusers from parish to parish. Polencheck and Barrett believe any church leader who enabled this should be held accountable.

“These people need to be criminally prosecuted,” Barrett said.

Also, financial accountability is important to help restore the trust of parishioners, the women said. The documents released detail payments made to get some accused priests to leave, as well as the questionable transfer of nearly $57 million into a trust for cemetery care.

“I wonder how many people know the $57 million is to take care of eight cemeteries,” Barrett questioned.

Both would support a change that would allow priests to marry. Polencheck said she favors increased psychological screening for those who want to enter ministry, and Barrett would like to see some more change in leadership.

“You need to have people in positions of authority within the archdiocese who have integrity and who have a conscience,” Barrett said.

Polencheck added boundaries also need to be erased between the various dioceses. She said there needs to be accountability across state lines and information should be more easily accessible nationwide.

Barrett said she is hopeful Pope Francis will help usher in an era of change. She referenced a quote Pope Francis made during an interview with NBC News when he said he wants to change the “Vatican-centric” view of the Roman Catholic Church and referred to some church leaders as “narcissists.”

“I do feel hopeful about Francis,” Barrett said. “He seems to care more about the people than the institution. He said the church needs to rethink its relationship between its leaders and its faithful.”

He may have stolen my youth, but I won’t let him have my faith’



It’s been 11 years since Donna Johnson Polencheck, now 68, reported the sexual abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of a local priest.

She said there is satisfaction in knowing her abuser, Joseph Savage, has been unmasked. It allowed her to begin the healing process.

“I still don’t necessarily trust people who are in a position of authority in the church,” Polencheck said. “But I am a Catholic and no one is ever going to take that away from me. He may have stolen my youth, but I won’t let him have my faith.”

Polencheck wasn’t the only one to issue allegations against priests who served at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Wilmot in the 1950s. John Riesselmann and Wesley Woodall brought official complaints before the Archdiocese of Milwaukee regarding alleged abuse by former priests Harold Herbst and Joseph Savage.

Scared into silence

Polencheck said her late brother and two other family members were also allegedly abused by Savage — who had been defrocked by the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1936, prior to coming to Wilmot.

Scared into silence in their youth, it took more than 30 years for the alleged victims to come forward. Both priests were already deceased when the reports were filed. The purpose of their reports, they said, was to reach out to other victims and make sure information about clergy abuse is made public.

“We wanted to reach out to other victims and let them know they are not alone,” Polencheck said. “There are hundreds out there. We have just scratched the surface.”

Confided in another abuser

Polencheck first went to the Rev. George Nuedling at St. John Catholic Church in Twin Lakes before going public. This was before allegations regarding Nuedling surfaced.

“The first person I told was Father George Nuedling,” she said. “He was good to my family. My father converted because of him. I respected him and I trusted him. That is why I went to him.”

Nuedling’s response was that she should tell her husband and pray. She didn’t know she had confessed her abuse to another abuser.

“When I found out the monster he was I felt abused all over again,” she said.

Polencheck said the Archdiocese of Milwaukee referred her to Chicago. In 2003, she received a report from the Archdiocese of Chicago Office of Professional Fitness Review. She learned Savage was forced to resign in 1936 after alleged sexual abuse of a 14-year-old boy. However, none of that information was shared with subsequent congregations where Savage served.

According to Polencheck, the report says he was possibly reinstated in 1938 at a diocese in northern Wisconsin. It is unclear how Savage was allowed to celebrate his Golden Jubilee at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Antioch, Ill., when he was no longer a member of that diocese.

Goes public with report

She went public with the findings. It was a frightening thing to do, she said.

“It wasn’t easy to walk around town after the article came out,” she admits, referencing a newspaper article that appeared in the Kenosha News in April 2004.

But people did come forward. She got letters from other victims, some anonymous, some signed.

Documents regarding the allegations involving Herbst were released earlier this year by the Achdiocese of Milwaukee. Those involving Savage were handled by the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Counseling sessions

Polencheck said the Archdiocese of Chicago provided group and individual counseling, along with opportunities for victim-survivors to attend overnight retreats.

Her counseling sessions ended this spring.

“That was very traumatic for me — to end that,” she said, adding if she could have continued it for the rest of her life, she would.

She is grateful for the Rev. Roger Savage at Holy Name (no relation to Joseph Savage) for believing her and being an advocate for the victim survivors from that parish.

“My former parish has removed the pictures of my abuser and the two pastors he served under who knew about the abuse but did not stop it,” Polencheck said.

In 2004 and 2005, the archdiocese in Milwaukee entered into settlements with victims claiming abuse by Herbst. The initial settlement, which included Holy Name Congregation, resulted in a payment of $75,000. The latter one resulted in a payment of $75,000, and up to an additional $25,000 for any treatment needs.