Catholic Diocesan Scout Chaplain Confesses to Abuse
June 29, 2002
A 77-year-old Sheboygan County man is the latest Roman Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse of a child.
The allegation dates back more than 40 years, but authorities are moving ahead with the investigation.
The alleged victim told Sheboygan County investigators that Rev. Donald Peters took nude photos of him and fondled him on several occasions in the basement of the home.
While they didn't find any photos, deputies seized a computer during the execution of a search warrant Thursday, but have yet to analyze
Peters wouldn't comment Friday, but he's said to have told investigators he took nude photos of three teenage boys in Fond du Lac in the mid-60s.
"It's usually not an isolated incident. We also know that he worked here in Sheboygan at two different parishes in our county. We also know that he has done some
work with the Boy Scouts. I think you all know that has to raise additional concerns," Sheboygan County District Attorney Bob Wells said.
Sheriff Loni Koenig said her department will examine the computer for child pornography. If child pornography is found, Father Donald Peters could be charged criminally.
Catholic Archdiocese, archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said Peters voluntarily retired in 1993 after an anonymous complaint about sexual abuse of a minor was made through police. Peters denied the allegation but was told he no longer could work with minors. However, he since may have been helping out at parishes, Topczewski said.
Peters was told May 10 - a little more than a week after an accuser
contacted the church with the allegation - that he can have no public ministry. The matter was referred to civil authorities on June 17.
The accuser who came forward is now 49. He was 16 when the alleged abuse took place. Koenig said the man had been in therapy and decided to come forward as part of his treatment. The man said he did not report the incident at the time because he thought no one would believe
him and that his family would be ostracized, Koenig said.
The alleged abuse occurred in Peters' family home in Cascade, a community in the southwest part of the county where he lives.
Although the allegation is well outside the statute of limitations for prosecution of such crimes, the archdiocese decided in mid-May to begin
reporting all new allegations to civil authorities, following the lead of dioceses in other parts of the country.
Koenig said Peters admitted the abuse of four teenage boys
but did not recall all of their names, including that of the man who came forward. He also said that he had taken sexually suggestive pictures of the boys but destroyed those pictures some 15 years ago, according to Koenig.
"Based on previous investigations, we know that it is not uncommon for sexual abusers to put pictures on their computers or for them to possess child pornography," Koenig said.
"That's why we decided to get a search warrant for his computer."
The retired priest said he has not had any sexual contact with children since 1967, Koenig said. He retired in 1993 after serving 40 years in five parishes.
Koenig said Peters served at St. Clement's in Sheboygan from 1950 to 1960 and again from
1977 to 1993, at St. Mary's in Hales Corners from 1960 to 1962, at St. Patrick's from 1962 to 1967 and again from 1969 to 1971, at Catholic Memorial High School from 1967 to 1969 and at St. Mary's in Sheboygan Falls from 1971 to 1977. Koenig said she hopes that if there are others alleging abuse, they will come forward.
The Fond du Lac Police Department has been asked to investigate the allegation
that three other youths were abused while Peters was at St. Patrick's, the sheriff said.
Peter Isely, a spokesman for a national group of survivors of sex abuse by clergy, applauded Sheboygan for its "appropriate and assertive response" in seizing Peters' computer.
"Sex offenders often lie about how many
victims they have had," Isely said. "The district attorney's office here should follow the Sheboygan example with the many known sex offenders in the Milwaukee area."
"The trauma that he had before has not gone away," Sheboygan County District Attorney Bob Wells said.