Umberger Patrick
The Rev. Patrick Umberger Contributed photo

The Diocese of La Crosse placed no restrictions on an Onalaska priest despite learning he had reportedly followed young boys into a water park bathroom last summer, the diocese attorney confirmed.

The Rev. Patrick Umberger, priest at St. Patrick’s Catholic Parish in Onalaska since 2005, now is accused of having child pornography after a state Department of Justice investigation that traces back to the water park incident.

But the diocesan attorney Jim Birnbaum called the water park reports an “unsubstantiated allegation.”

Umberger, 59, also confessed to state agents he’d had anonymous sexual encounters with males and females, none of them minors. He visited gay chat rooms as well, he said, where online cameras showed nude individuals engaged in sex acts, according the DOJ report.

Umberger told state agents Wednesday he met with Birnbaum and Vicar the Rev. Joe Hirsch sometime after the July 22, 2009, incident at Noah’s Ark Water Park in Wisconsin Dells, according the report.

Umberger said the diocese received a letter about the incident, possibly from Lake Delton police, the report stated. Lake Delton police Chief Thomas Dorner said the department did not send the letter and has no record of sending a police report to the diocese.

A family and two Noah’s Ark Water Park employees reported seeing Umberger repeatedly follow boys into the bathroom near a children’s pool area, according to the Lake Delton police report.

Umberger was found standing next to a 10-year-old using a urinal, the report stated. Umberger denied intentionally following the boys and told an officer he had prostate problems and had to urinate often, according to the DOJ report.

Park officials revoked Umberger’s season pass and placed him on a watch list.

Birnbaum said Friday he discussed the incident with Umberger but couldn’t recall when or who else was present at the meeting. He declined to identify what exactly was discussed during the meeting, citing attorney-client privacy, but said the diocese verified Umberger’s medical condition that caused frequent urination.

Birnbaum termed the incident an “unsubstantiated allegation.”

“There was no crime,” he said.

The diocese did not impose any restrictions on Umberger’s contact with children, Birnbaum said.

“We’ve never had a complaint about him,” Birnbaum said.

Lake Delton police did forward its report to Onalaska police, who asked the Department of Justice to investigate Umberger for potential sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography.

Onalaska Assistant Chief Troy Miller said the department immediately turned to the DOJ, though he was unsure of the exact date, to avoid any conflict of interest. Many officers attend St. Patrick’s Parish, Miller said, and the department has an officer in the school for DARE and GREAT programs.

Umberger was arrested Wednesday at the church rectory and charged Thursday in La Crosse County Circuit Court with one count of possession of child pornography after agents discovered three sexually graphic photos of nearly nude children on his computer, according to the complaint.

Umberger was removed from active ministry and teaching pending the investigation. The diocese was not aware before the arrest of any improper computer use, Birnbaum said.

“What’s happening right now is a shock,” he said.

Umberger told a state agent Wednesday he is sexually attracted to boys and young men and searched the Internet for images of 12- to 15-year-olds, according to the complaint. But he denied ever having sexual contact with children.

Umberger, who told agents he had been receiving chemotherapy treatments for cancer, also is diocese webmaster, taught at St. Patrick’s School and is chaplain at Aquinas Middle School, according to his website. He previously served parishes in Arcadia, La Crosse, Mauston, Wonewoc and Elroy.

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