In August, 1985, a 15-year-old reported to his mother that, on a sleep-over with Wagner the night before at the rectory in Oconomowoc, Wagner had provided the teen with alcohol and that the teen woke up with Wagner in a sexually compromising position. The mother went to the family doctor to discuss what had happened. The doctor tried to persuade her from making the matter public but eventually accompanied her to report the incident to the police after first confronting Wagner, who admitted to what had gone on.
The police investigated the matter over an eight-month period. In a police interview, Wagner gave the requested list of names of boys and young men. In each case, he stated whether or not he had given them alcohol. In each case he stated whether or not there had been physical contact. In several instances, he describes what he refers to as “cradling” the boy, whereby he would encircle the boy with his arms; this occurred while the boys were asleep. He admitted to being on camping trips with boys where they shared a small tent and there was perhaps a touching of the boy’s hips while the boy slept.
He also described an incident with a 16 or 17-year-old boy who stayed overnight at Oconomowoc. Wagner admitted that he had given him alcohol and that they had lain together in “a sexually oriented position” but that they were clothed.
In March, 1986, Bishop Sklba was contacted by a parent with an inquiry about a visit by the police asking questions of their teenage child. Bishop Sklba recommended that they cooperate to ensure that there were no unfounded accusations. Wagner was represented by attorney Gerry Boyle who worked with the police on arranging an agreement on the disposition of the case.
In April, 1986, Bishop Sklba was informed by Wagner that no charges would be filed but that reassignment might be ordered. In the arrangement worked out between Waukesha County Assistant District Attorney Steven Centenario and Gerry Boyle, Wagner was to begin receiving treatment and was to be moved out of the parish. Wagner was transferred to St. Louis Parish, Fond du Lac. The archdiocese was not given a copy of the agreement as it was retained by Wagner’s attorney. The archdiocese did not obtain a copy of the police reports.
In May, 1986, a parent wrote to Bishop Sklba complaining about the fact that Wagner had returned to Oconomowoc for their teenager’s confirmation when that teenager was one of the individuals to whom Wagner gave alcohol. Further anger was expressed about the fact that Wagner was treated leniently, that excuses for his giving alcohol to teenagers were made, and that he was transferred to another parish where there would also be teenagers.
In November, 1986, Wagner informed Bishop Sklba that he had received a letter from a parent whose teenager had gotten into legal trouble over alcohol. Bishop Sklba also received a letter from the same parent complaining that the teenager was in trouble with the law and that Wagner had led the teen to this behavior and yet was treated more leniently than the teen.
In October, 1992, Bishop Sklba received a phone call from a Fond du Lac County social worker about a conversation between some Fond du Lac detectives that was overheard. They remarked about allegations against Wagner that had taken place in another county.
In February, 1993, Father Tom Venne, vicar for clergy, received a call from Wagner who was upset about a Milwaukee Journal article about an unidentified priest who gave alcohol to a minor in Waukesha County in 1985. The archdiocese had been contacted by the reporter prior to the publication of the article to inquire about the handling of the case. Archbishop Weakland responded that, since no charges were filed, the priest’s name should not be used. He said that the only elements of the agreement about which he had information were that the priest was to get counseling and be given a new assignment.
In November, 1993, Dr. Liz Piasecki, director, Project Benjamin, received information about a reporter having the 1986 police report which shows Wagner admitted to being in a sexually oriented position with a minor. Dr. Piasecki and Father Barbian, from the Priest Placement Office, met with Steven Centenario of the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office to request the original report. Mr. Centenario stated that Wagner’s file had been lost but that he recalled that part of the agreement was that Wagner was to be reassigned to a ministry where there would be no contact with minors. They then met with Police Chief Bord in Fond du Lac. The Chief had a copy of the Waukesha report in his desk. He said he received it from someone in Oconomowoc who had an interest in the case. The Chief would not show them the police report because it had the names of minors in it. He said they were keeping an eye on Wagner.
Dr. Piasecki contacted Gerry Boyle asking for a copy of the police report. He refused to provide a copy and said he would take care of the matter. Boyle’s office notified Dr. Piasecki that he had contacted the Waukesha DA and refreshed his memory about the 1986 agreement that had been reached. They also said they had advised the newspaper reporter about the risks of publishing Wagner’s name.
In July, 1994, Dr. Piasecki was contacted by a relative of one of the original teens seeking help after the individual had received a second DWI charge. Dr. Piasecki contacted the individual directly and offered assistance with treatment. Dr. Piasecki then met with the same individual who gave her a copy of the original police report which had been sent to the family by a newspaper reporter. After Archbishop Weakland saw the report, he authorized Dr. Piasecki to engage outside experts to assist her in a thorough assessment of Wagner.
In August, 1994, the evaluation of Wagner began. During the evaluation Wagner was shown the original police report and was questioned about current behavior. Wagner admitted to giving alcohol to 18-21 year olds with sexual intent. While he was on vacation in California, Archbishop Weakland was notified that day that there were serious concerns about Wagner’s behavior as well as over possible suicide on his part. Archbishop Weakland notified Chancellor Cusack to inform Wagner of restrictions being placed upon his ministry, namely no unsupervised contact with minors, no alcohol consumption with or in the presence of anyone under the age of 21, and no overnight quests. Wagner was also told he needed to move to a living situation where other priests would be able to support these restrictions. Wagner was told by the chancellor that he would be sent for full evaluation at a treatment facility.
In September, 1994, a report about Wagner from the treatment facility was received. Dr. Piasecki pointed out to Archbishop Weakland the discrepancies between what Wagner reported to the treatment facility staff and what he reported to the evaluation team prior to being sent for assessment. Based on the pattern of behavior that had been noted, Dr. Piasecki recommended to Archbishop Weakland that Wagner not continue in a parish assignment despite his desire to do so.
In December, 1994, a settlement is reached with one of the original complainants.
In October, 1995, a priest reported to Dr. Piasecki that a social worker informed him that a year ago she saw Wagner and several boys coming from the rectory after 8:30 p.m.
In February, 1996, Dr. Piasecki met with Wagner and his therapist. Wagner denied he had had any unsupervised contact with minors.
In July, 2000, Archbishop Weakland appointed Wagner to the pastoral team at Holy Family Parish, Fond du Lac.
In 2002, Wagner’s case was one of those to be reviewed by the Eisenberg Commission.
In April, 2002, Wagner’s case from 1985-1986 was reported in a newspaper article. Holy Family Parish was notified about Wagner’s situation.
In May, 2002, Chancellor Cusack was contacted by Fond du Lac Police Chief Bord who was concerned about the characterization of the role of the Fond du Lac police given in an archdiocesan statement. He said that he was aware from the outset about the report from Oconomowoc but was in no position to provide any form of monitoring of Wagner. He also reported knowing that Wagner had violated the 1994 restriction about unsupervised contact with minors.
With the passage of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth in June, 2002, Bishop Sklba as diocesan administrator, has Wagner step aside from his parish position.
In December, 2002, Archbishop Dolan requested that Wagner resign from his pastoral position. This request was reiterated as required by canon law in January, 2003. Wagner’s attorney, Carolyn Burrell, contacted the archbishop threatening legal action for violation of an employment contract with Wagner. She indicated that Wagner would resign in exchange for a payment of almost $400,000. A canonical removal from office process was undertaken with the removal decree issued on March 28, 2003. A penal precept restricting Wagner’s ministry was also issued at that time.
Wagner’s case was submitted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the request that a penal trial be authorized. CDF responded that an administrative, rather than judicial penal trial, could be undertaken but that first Wagner should be asked to seek voluntary laicization. Wagner acceded to this request and he was laicized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 7, 2007.