A jury on Thursday decided against a Catholic priest who said he was falsely accused of sexual abuse by a former altar boy, concluding the allegations were substantially true.
After two hours of deliberations, the jury rejected claims that the 26-year-old man defamed the Rev. Gerald Vosen of Baraboo by concocting the story of abuse to explain to his parents why he was gay.
John Casey, the man's attorney, said his client's credibility was attacked for more than a year, but it took a jury only two hours to substantiate his claims that the priest abused him when he was an altar boy and student at a Catholic elementary school in Janesville.
"My client has been vindicated. Now the public knows he is not a liar," Casey said. "But he will never have his childhood back."
Vosen, 71, sued the man last year claiming the allegations were false. His attorney asked jurors to award the priest $1.1 million in punitive damages. Vosen's attorney, Patrick McDonald, said the jury may have been prejudiced by news coverage of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal.
"It's not only a disappointment but a surprise that the jury would have returned the verdict they did," he said.
McDonald argued the man concocted the story that he was abused over a two-year period at St. John Vianney to help explain to his parents why he was gay. After his parents reported the allegations to the Madison Diocese in 2003, "a small lie mushroomed into a horrific calamity," McDonald said Thursday in his closing argument.
Casey said his client was a fifth- and sixth-grader when he was repeatedly sexually abused by Vosen, who warned him not to tell anybody. He said the man finally told his sister of the abuse, and four years later told his parents, and his sexual orientation had nothing to do with the allegations.
Vosen's lawyer attacked the man's credibility, saying his story changed and was contradicted by other evidence.
The jury needed only to find that the allegations were substantially true to decide in the man's favor.
Casey said the decision clears the way for his client to ask the local district attorney to press criminal charges in the case. McDonald said he doubted any prosecutor would take up a case filled with inconsistencies.
The decision stunned Vosen's supporters who attended the four-day trial in support of the longtime priest. They filled the courtroom to stand behind the man they described as gentle and caring.
"This whole thing was a hoax," said David Seep, 28, of Reedsburg. "How could they lie under oath? Their whole family is going to hell."
McDonald said he and Vosen would look at whether to challenge the decision. Vosen remains on paid leave from the diocese.
* The charge: The Rev. Gerald Vosen sued a man and his parents, saying they falsely accused him of sexually abusing the man when he was an altar boy.
* The verdict: A jury took two hours Thursday to reject the claims, concluding the allegations were substantially true.
* What's next: Vosen's attorney said an appeal would be considered. The Madison Diocese, which placed Vosen on administrative leave last year, has referred all allegations against Vosen to the Vatican.