MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the sexual abuse conviction of a once-prominent Jesuit priest who insisted he was unfairly prosecuted for acts dating to the 1960s.
In a 7-0 ruling, justices said they were satisfied that Donald McGuire received a fair trial and that "justice has not miscarried for any reason."
McGuire, a former spiritual adviser to Mother Teresa who commanded a worldwide following as a gifted preacher and philosopher, is considered one of the most influential figures convicted in the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal. Advocates for childhood victims of clergy sex abuse praised the court's ruling.
Peter Isely, midwest director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said a ruling in McGuire's favor could have jeopardized the convictions of 20 clergy members who have been found guilty of decades-old sexual abuse in Wisconsin.
"That is an immediate victory for children and families in Wisconsin," he said.
McGuire's attorney Robert Henak said the ruling was unfair to his client and set a bad precedent. He said he would consider asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
"If any one of us faced an allegation that was 35 to 40 years old ... I don't think any of us could have a fair trial," he said. "Unfortunately for all of us, the Supreme Court disagrees."
McGuire was convicted in 2006 on five counts of indecent behavior with a child after a jury trial.
Two men came forward in 2003 to report they were abused by McGuire during trips to a cottage in Fontana, Wis. in 1967 and 1968 while they were teenagers. At the time, McGuire taught the boys at the Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Ill., where they testified they sometimes slept in his bed.
McGuire argued that witnesses who would have helped him prove the men were lying were dead, and key documents were no longer available. He said those included deceased priests who had lived in his residence, relatives of the boys and records that would have showed he did not check out a school car on the date of the trips.
McGuire said his prosecution more than 35 years after the alleged crimes violated his constitutional right to a fair trial.
He claimed a law that suspended the six-year statute of limitations because he was living outside of Wisconsin was unconstitutional as applied to him. That law has been used by district attorneys to prosecute clergy members who had fled Wisconsin or been transferred elsewhere by their church after alleged abuse decades ago.
Writing for the court, Justice David Prosser rejected McGuire's arguments. He said McGuire offered no support for his claims that the dead witnesses and missing documents would have exonerated him, calling that mere speculation. Prosser also said that importantly, both victims testified at trial and were rigorously cross-examined by his attorney.
"Without any indication of what the unavailable evidence would have demonstrated, we conclude that reversal is unwarranted because the real controversy was fully tried," Prosser wrote.
McGuire, now 80, was sentenced to seven years in prison but allowed to remain free during his appeal.
In the meantime, federal prosecutors in Chicago convicted him on charges of traveling outside the U.S. and across state lines to have sex with a teenager. He is serving a 25-year prison sentence and is being held at a medical center for federal prisoners in Springfield, Mo., but he is appealing that conviction.
Barbara Blaine, president and founder of SNAP, said the ruling would help keep McGuire behind bars.
"He is an unrepentant, narcissistic, serial child predator who used his status as a Jesuit and Mother Teresa's spiritual adviser to prey on unsuspecting families and kids," she said. "This case should remind child sex abuse victims that even the most high-profile, widely respected and cunning child-molesting cleric can sometimes be prosecuted and kept away from kids if only we are brave, patient and persistent."