Bishop-to-be responds to records allegations

MARQUETTE – The Rev. John Doerfler, who last week was announced as the new bishop of the Diocese of Marquette, says the destruction of records he oversaw while he was chancellor in the Diocese of Green Bay was in keeping with the recordkeeping policy of the diocese.

Doerfler, now serving as vicar general of the Diocese of Green Bay, responded to reports in the media he destroyed documents relating to priests accused of sexual abuse.

“I certainly believe in transparency and wanted to bring this up right away,” Doerfler said.

Doerfler said the Green Bay diocese began working on a policy to handle recordkeeping in 2001 when a new archivist with related experience was hired. This was before he became chancellor, he said.

The comprehensive policy, which pertains to all kinds of diocese records, was established in 2006, Doerfler said, and those records include priest files.

When he became chancellor, part of his duties involved executing that recordkeeping policy, which, Doerfler noted, received legal review. He also gave input into the policy.

That policy called for priests’ records to be kept until a year after their deaths, after which they would be destroyed.

“The policy does state very explicitly that no records were ever destroyed if there are any pending claims,” Doerfler said.

Also, because of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act the diocese wasn’t allowed to keep psychological records of priests in files, he said.

Doerfler testified in a 2010 deposition in District Court in Clark County, Nevada, involving a lawsuit against the dioceses of Las Vegas and Reno-Las Vegas, Green Bay and convicted pedophile John Patrick Feeney, a former priest who had one time served in the Diocese of Green Bay. He said that during a review of Feeney’s files in 2006 the only documents related to Feeney that were destroyed were psychological reports that were destroyed in 2007.

SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a news release the group is disappointed with the decision to appoint Doerfler bishop, saying the Green Bay Diocese has a “terrible track record” on clergy sex abuse and cover-up cases.

Doerfler noted a judge in 2011 ruled the diocese’s recordkeeping policy was sufficient to safeguard documents related to sex abuse.

“So, I don’t know why people would think there’s any hint of a cover-up at all when there clearly isn’t,” Doerfler said.

He brought up the subject at a Dec. 17 press conference at St. Peter Cathedral announcing his appointment, saying he will have an open-door policy for victims of sex abuse.

“Know that the doors of my heart are open to you,” Doerfler said.

Doerfler also said he has met with victims of abuse.

“It’s just an awful, horrible thing for anyone to go through,” he said.

Doerfler also is connected with Courage, which he said is a ministry to provide support for people struggling with same-sex attraction.

Doerfler stressed the organization allows participants to provide mental support and encouragement, and promotes chastity and following the teachings of the Catholic Church.

“It’s really a spiritual support group,” he said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.