GREEN BAY AREA REGIONAL NEWS: Brown County

Victim advocate group Nate’s Mission to ask Brown County D.A. to launch investigation into accused priest

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Victim advocate group Nate’s Mission held a press conference Thursday afternoon to announce their plan to ask the Brown County District Attorney to launch a criminal investigation into a priest previously assigned to St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere.

The group says Father Edward Smith, who is currently presiding at a church in Delaware, is accused of sexual assault of a minor while in De Pere. “It is well documented, and we have those documents,” said Peter Isely of Nate’s Mission. Isely says the previous District Attorney in Brown County had the information and choose not to prosecute. “We want D.A. David Lasee to charge Ed Smith,” said Isely.

St. Norbert Abby released the following statement to Local 5 regarding the allegation against Fr. Ed Smith. “Ed Smith is a member of the Delaware Norbertines and subject to his religious superiors in Delaware. Records indicate that the complaint by Commander Whitwell was filed in Delaware in 2007 while Smith was in residence there. Fr. Smith was assigned to residence at St. Norbert Abbey 1986-89 while serving as Executive Director of the Tri-Catholic High School Foundation. His role focused on fundraising for the three Catholic high schools in the Green Bay-De Pere area. Ed Smith was requested to return to the Delaware Norbertines at the request of his superiors. Ed Smith was included in the 2019 list of Norbertines with credible allegations and this list was released by the Abbey to the public.” – Montie Chavez Communications Director.

Nate’s Mission released the following statement in response to St. Norbert Abbey’s statement:

Earlier this afternoon, representatives of Nate’s Mission and the Lindstrom family gathered outside the Brown County DA’s office to share newly unsealed documents revealing the role of church officials at St. Norbert Abbey in recruiting known serial child sex offender, Father Ed Smith, to work as the Executive Director of the Tri-Catholic High School Foundation with residence at St. Norbert Abbey. 

Former St. Norbert Abbey Prior Eugene Hackbarth acknowledged Smith’s history of misconduct at St. John Neumann High School as he collaborated with Philadelphia-based Daylesford Abbot John Neitzel in 1985 to bring Smith to De Pere because it was the “only option to salvage his priesthood.” Their communication reveals their priorities which included evading criminal prosecution and limiting organizational liability from sexual abuse that occurred in Smith’s previous assignments in Pennsylvania and Delaware

So eager were the De Pere Norbertines to have Smith assigned to them, documents reveal that they actively procured an assignment working in the Green Bay Diocese. Not only was the assignment approved by the bishop, Smith personally met with the Green Bay bishop to discuss what would happen “should another incident occur while in the Diocese of Green Bay.”

The statement released by the Norbertines this afternoon acknowledging Smith’s role in the De Pere Abbey contradicts previous statements by Abbot Neville that Smith was “never a member of the St. Norbert Abbey.” These repeated statements intended to mislead Green Bay’s Catholic families were false.

We now know there were other “incidents” while Smith was in Green Bay. Smith allegedly assaulted at least two teenagers while assigned at St. Norbert Abbey from 1986-1989 before he was mysteriously reassigned to the Delaware Norbertines. While in Green Bay and Delaware, court records show that St. Norbert Abbey paid for his liability insurance.

Additionally, the Norbertines this morning released the names of yet two more priests who assaulted children, one being Abbot Benjamin Mackin who oversaw Smith’s transfer to De Pere. And they are convening yet another “third-party” panel to conduct yet another “review” of their files. 

There is only one third-party panel that needs to conduct a review of the Norbertine’s files. The church does not need to spend their charitable assets hiring lawyers or self-selected “experts” to review their files because these services are freely available to all residents of Wisconsin. It is the Wisconsin Department of Justice led by Attorney General Kaul. If the Norbertines are serious about accountability in their non-profit corporation, every document must also be sent to the Department of Justice.

Representatives of Nate’s Mission have called on Brown County District Attorney David Lasee to reopen the investigation of Smith, exercise his statutory authority to compel documents related to abuse from the Diocese of Green Bay and Norbertine order, and to publicly support a statewide inquiry into sexual abuse in faith-based organizations.” – Sarah Pearson, Associate Director.

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