Churchgoers shocked to hear additional accusations against former priest

Priest facing child sexual assault charges
Churchgoers shocked to hear additional accusations against former priest

People who attend St. John Vianney in Janesville were shocked to hear accusations against a former priest.

William Nolan is facing six charges of second-degree sexual assault of a child in Jefferson County after accusations that he assaulted a Fort Atkinson altar boy more than 100 times.

On Monday, the Diocese of Madison released a statement saying the church is investigating an additional allegation against Nolan that’s reported to have happened in Janesville in 2009.

Nolan served at St. John Vianney in Janesville from 1989 to 1994.

Matthew McDonald said his family has attended the parish for more than 40 years. His siblings went to the Catholic school while Nolan was the priest, McDonald said.

“I really liked him,” McDonald said. “He has always been kind and worked really hard to promote the gospel message of Jesus’ love and mercy toward others — toward everyone.”

According to the diocese, a third party raised concerns about Nolan in 2009. When an official with the diocese contacted the alleged victim, the man said he did not accuse Nolan of any sexual misconduct. The man reached out to the diocese again five years later but still did not accuse the priest.

“If at any point, an accusation of sexual misconduct had been made, it would have been thoroughly investigated,” the statement read.

In 2015, the man filed a complaint with the Janesville Police Department, according to the diocese’s statement.

“It’s always pleasant dealing with him, and so it’s just such a shock to see, to learn these allegations, whether they’re true or untrue,” McDonald said about Nolan.

After Nolan was charged in Jefferson County Court on Thursday, the diocese was in contact with the man involved in the Janesville incident. On Monday, he accused Nolan of sexual misconduct in 2009, according to the news release.

“The new allegation will be investigated in full cooperation with any civil authorities,” the news release stated.

News 3 has contacted Janesville police about the complaint filed in 2015. Officers said they were waiting to hear from the city attorney before releasing the report.

“Father Bill has done a lot of good work for the community and for the church,” McDonald said. “I hate to see that taken away, whether or not these are true. I don’t want to wish that on anybody, so pray. Pray for the victims, their families, Father Bill and all those involved because it’s been trying already in the first week.”

Other members of McDonald’s family, who are also part of the St. John Vianney parish, agreed.

“I think it’s very important that we all pray for the accuser, as well as Father Nolan,” Patrick McDonald said. “Keep in mind that until the facts are known, the presumption is that Father Nolan, like everyone else who is accused, is presumed to be innocent.”

Patrick McDonald is an attorney in Janesville. He represented a former St. John Vianney priest, Gerald Vosen, who was accused of sexual abuse in 2003. According to court documents, Nolan testified on behalf of Vosen during a trial in 2005.

“It’s important to always keep in mind that the presumption in our country and under canon law in the church is that a person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty,” McDonald said. “Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be true when it comes to allegations of sexual abuse, and it’s too easy for most people to presume the accuser is correct and that the accused is guilty.”

Patrick McDonald said research shows there are cases when victims are abused by fathers or stepfathers and can “transfer” those experiences to other authority figures.

“Psychologically, that child just cannot comprehend that his or her own father would have committed that abuse,” Patrick McDonald said. “And it’s not that the person is lying. The person honestly believes that it was the priest or the teacher or whomever, but it was actually someone else.”

Nolan is scheduled to be in Jefferson County Court on June 5. According to the diocese, he has been suspended from all ministerial activity and is on administrative leave.