On July 2, 1973, six years after being ordained, Widera was arrested in Ozaukee County and charged with sexual perversion for engaging in an act of sexual gratification involving a minor. At the time, Widera was serving as associate pastor for St. Mary Parish, Port Washington.
In a July 13, 1973 letter by a psychologist to whom Archbishop Cousins had referred Widera after his arrest, the psychologist reported, after completing a battery of testing and initial therapy sessions, that Widera was an extremely good risk for psychotherapeutic intervention, and that the therapist did not see Widera as a constant threat to young people.
In August, 1973, Widera pled guilty to the criminal charge, was convicted and sentenced to continue his therapy with a psychologist, and was placed on probation for three years. The judge said Widera may not return to the Port Washington area.
The archdiocese subsequently assigned Widera as associate pastor for St. Andrew’s Parish in Delavan. In June, 1976, while he was assigned there, the archdiocese received a report that Widera had abused a 13-year-old altar boy at the parish while the two were on a weekend fishing outing. When confronted, Widera admitted that he made “a slip” while fishing with the boy several weeks earlier. The archdiocesan official who met with Widera stated that he would try “to keep a lid on the thing” so that no police record would be made. Efforts were undertaken to convince the mother, who had reported the abuse to a therapist, not to contact the police if the Church agreed to remove Widera from the parish and see that he received treatment. Ultimately, the decision was made to have Widera continue treating with his current therapist until his period of probation ended, which occurred on August 13, 1976. Thereafter, arrangements were made to have Widera go “on vacation” to California.
In September, 1976, a member of the Archdiocesan Personnel Board voiced his concern that he would have a problem “in conscience” reassigning Widera given his record. The following month, another member of the personnel board advised Widera of his option of completing treatment with the House of Affirmation, as a condition of being considered for another archdiocesan appointment, or they would release Widera to another diocese upon his request with the board to receive periodic reports on his status.
In December, 1976, Archbishop Cousins wrote to Father Michael Driscoll, Chancellor-Secretary to Bishop William Johnson of the Diocese of Orange, California, about a possible pastoral assignment there for Widera. Cousins detailed Widera’s prior sexual abuse of minors, including his recent repeat offense, as well as Widera’s therapeutic treatment past, present, and future needs should he be reassigned in California. While Archbishop Cousins could see no “great risk” in permitting Widera to return to pastoral work, he acknowledged that there were “legal complications” related to Widera’s need to continue treatment (arrangements for which had been made). Archbishop Cousins encouraged Father Driscoll and Bishop Johnson to meet with Widera and satisfy themselves before making any decisions on assignments.
In early 1977, Widera was appointed “in hospitality” to St. Pius V Parish in Buena Park, California, an assignment that carried with it the faculties of an associate pastor. Widera was subsequently appointed to serve as associate pastor at St. Justin Martyr in Anaheim.
In August,1981, Widera advised the archdiocese that he had been invited by the Bishop of Orange to be incardinated there. Widera claimed to have had no problems since he had been in California, noting that five years had passed since he had psychological problems, and that while he had not received any “professional help” in California, he intended to do so in the near future. In November, 1981, Archbishop Weakland issue a decree excardinating Widera from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. That same month, Widera was incardinated into the Diocese of Orange.
After receiving reports of sexual abuse by Widera of four to five minor boys in a pool, which occurred on July 31, 1985, the Diocese of Orange removed Widera from ministry. Widera was subsequently sent for therapy in New Mexico. After Widera was released from therapy in the spring of 1986, he had orders to return to the status of a lay person, and prohibited from working in the Church.
In 2002, a warrant was issued in California for his arrest on multiple accounts of child sexual abuse. Not long thereafter, he died, by falling or jumping from a hotel balcony in Mexico. That same year, the archdiocese received five reports from individuals who claimed to have been sexually abused by Widera when they were young. These reports include incidents in Delevan, St. John de Nepomuc Parish, Milwaukee, and St. Mary’s Parish, Port Washington. One individual claimed to have been abused at a number of locations in Wisconsin during the period from 1969-1976 when the individual was 9-16-years-old.
The following year, the archdiocese received several more reports from individuals who claimed to have been sexually abused as children by Widera. Two of these reports related to Widera’s tenure at St. Mary’s. One of these reports revealed a report previously made by the individual to the West Allis Police Department in 2002 involving allegations of abuse to a woman when she was in 6th grade at St. Mary’s in Port Washington and 11-12-years-old. The lengthy West Allis Police Department’s incident report documents numerous instances of sexual abuse by Widera involving other young victims, both male and female, in Wisconsin, Arizona, and California.
In April, 2004, the archdiocese entered an agreement to provide $5,000 for a sustenance fund for an individual who claimed to have been abused by Widera while the individual waited to participate in the archdiocese’s voluntary mediation program. That same year, the archdiocese entered into four settlement agreements with individuals who claimed to have been abused by Widera. These settlements required payments of $50,000 with $15,000 for counseling, $50,000, $40,000, and $56,000 respectively. During this period, the archdiocese received yet another report of abuse by Widera, which took place in 1973. The archdiocese agreed to provide financial assistance for this individual, as well as therapy, with the expectation that the individual was going to proceed with mediation.
In 2005, the archdiocese entered into two more settlement agreements with individuals who claimed to have been abused by Widera. They required the archdiocese to make payments of $100,000 and $88,000 respectively. The archdiocese also received another report of sexual abuse by Widera while he was at St. Mary’s Parish, Port Washington during 1971-1973 when the survivor was approximately 11-13-years-old.
In 2006, the archdiocese and the Diocese of Orange settled lawsuits with nine California victims of sexual abuse by Widera and, in one case, another priest. The settlement payments involving individuals abused by both priests totaled $16.65 million.
In July, 2008, the archdiocese received its last report of alleged abuse by Widera, which occurred in 1979-1981.