Rightwing MJS’ Columnist Patrick McIlheran’s Downplays Sexual Assault of Children to Defend Prosser Inaction

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Rightwing Republican talking-point stenographer Patrick McIlheran has outdone himself on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s website today. McIlheran, a prolific contributor to the opinion page and the print version of the MJS outdoes himself on the site in a column defending David Prosser’s unwillingness to prosecute a sexual abuse of children by a priest with prominent family ties, which happened while he was Outagamie District Attorney. Not only is McIlheran factually wrong throughout, despite these facts actually being reported in today’s MJS, but also he shows a despicable lack of concern about the crime of sexual assault of children. (Facts on Prosser’s unwillingness to prosecute are available with full documentation at ProsserFacts.com)

1. These activities all happened in 1978, but McIlheran repeatedly refers to 1979 including in the lede, a glaring factual inaccuracy which casts a shadow over his comprehension of the case itself and David Prosser’s unwillingness to prosecute these sexual assaults. David Prosser was in the Assembly in 1979, and in fact spent 1978 running for office and engaging in all the fundraising, coalition building and controversy avoiding that goes with being a legislative candidate.

2. There was a third victim of abuse who Prosser knew about, something that McIlheran completely ignores. This would be three children who made the accusations which Prosser subsequently failed to prosecute. One wonders how many victims would Prosser have needed to bravely come forward before he would have been willing to act in the midst of his Assembly campaign.

3. But what is most serious. For political reasons, McIlheran downplays the assault of children in their beds and during confession by characterizing the criminal as someone “who tried touching two boys inappropriately.” Sexual assault of children is perpetrated often by the attacker using his or her authority as an adult. Far from McIlheran’s dismissive language, Feeney’s case is worst example of the use of authority to attack children, scare them into silence and scar them for a lifetime with the belief that somehow the attack upon them was their fault. The police report stated, “Fr. Feeney then slipped his hand down and under his pajama bottom.” This assault occurred in the child’s bed. Feeney assaulted the child during confession. In what environment could these criminal acts be more manipulative of the authority dynamic discussed above?

Perhaps McIlheran’s zeal to put something defending Prosser is why he is sloppy on the facts, but it is my belief that it is his politics which is causing him to use language downplaying the assault — which in my mind, is unconscionable and indefensible. It is likely Prosser’s unwillingness to prosecute despite the evidence in a case indirectly involving the powerful diocese during his campaign for Assembly had much to do with political concerns as well.

Patrick McIlheran’s dismissive use language to describe the assaults should be addressed and condemned immediately by the editorial board which employs him. Sexual assault of children is not something that can be measured on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact’s meter — assault is assault.

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Scot Ross served as Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now & the Institute from 2007 to 2019.