Two Catholic churches on Milwaukee’s upper east side will be without their pastor just as Advent begins while an investigation is launched into whether he broke his priestly vows and whether the Archdiocese of Milwaukee knew about the situation and did not address it.
Fr. Mark Payne, of St. Monica in Whitefish Bay and St. Eugene in Fox Point, was put on administrative leave Friday because of publicity from a story published the day before by The Pillar, a national website focusing on the information about the Catholic Church.
Fr. Nathan Reeseman, the Milwaukee Archdiocesan Vicar for Clergy, emailed a letter to parishioners of St. Monica and St. Eugene on Friday outlining the actions taken under the leadership of Archbishop Jerome Listecki. Reeseman said the archdiocese had been aware of questions about Payne’s lifestyle, which were the crux of the report by The Pillar.
The website said Payne has owned a condo with a man since 2003, that the man had depicted them as a couple on social media posts, and that the man had been hired temporarily last year to teach theology at St. Monica’s School. Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy, a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages.
“The Archdiocese had been made aware of concerns that were noted in the news story,” the email from Reeseman said. “Father was told his hiring of the grade school teacher was not appropriate. Father Payne assured us that he is faithful to his priestly vows and that the information painted a misleading picture of the situation. We offered him the opportunity to clear up any possible misunderstandings before taking the step of initiating a formal investigation.”
However, it said, given The Pillar’s report, it had decided to go ahead. Reeseman’s email said Listecki is also going ahead with a formal canonical investigation, to be conducted by someone from another diocese, to avoid the appearance of bias.
Payne also serves as judicial vicar in the archdiocese, a senior ranking leadership position. In that role, he leads a tribunal in providing justice for people approaching the church’s court system, and advises the archbishop on canonical issues. Canon law is a code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church.
Payne did not respond to an email Saturday from the Journal Sentinel.
He took over the two upper east eide parishes after serving at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church on Milwaukee’s south side until June 2022.
Deacon Stan Lowe, pastoral coordinator at St. Matthias Catholic Church, will serve as administrator of St. Monica and St. Eugene, according to Reeseman. Fr. Matthew Jacob, pastor at Lumen Christi Catholic Church, will serve as supervising priest, he said. An acting judicial vicar has yet to be named.
Christmas Day this year marks the 100th anniversary of St. Monica parish. Reeseman indicated archdiocesan officials were painfully aware that people in the pews would be filled with emotion as all this unfolds.
“We understand this news will be upsetting and we ask for your prayers and patience as we move through this process,” Reesman wrote.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Archdiocese puts pastor or two Catholic parishes on leave