A retired priest of the Diocese of La Crosse was charged Monday with fourth-degree sexual assault, three weeks after being accused of assaulting and propositioning a woman outside the La Crosse Public Library.

A library security worker reported Msgr. Bernard McGarty, 94, to police May 15 after a victim came forward regarding an incident that occurred after library closing hours on May 11. The victim stated a man, who identified himself as Bill, took her arm and placed it on his genitals, according to the criminal complaint.

Upon pulling up library video surveillance footage, staff members were able to identify the perpetrator as McGarty, who was previously charged with disorderly conduct in 2014 after exposing himself to a masseuse in Wausau and asking the masseuse to rub his genitals.

Bernard McGarty


Footage from May 11 showed McGarty handing the victim $20 and pulling her hand onto his lap, according to the report. The victim stated McGarty said “he would like a little kiss” and before departing asked “how he could get a hold of her,” according to the complaint.

When police questioned McGarty at his residence, he stated he and the victim spoke briefly and confirmed giving her $20 “because she was in need of money, as she is homeless.” He denied making physical contact, despite being told of the video evidence, or asking for a kiss.

Attorney Cheryl Gill entered a not guilty plea on McGarty’s behalf Monday. Judge Todd Bjerke set a $500 signature bond and asked Gill to bring McGarty in for booking by the end of the week.

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“I will try, your honor, but as you may know Msgr. McGarty is 94 and he has some difficulty getting out and about, notwithstanding this particular charge, so I’ll try to get him in here,” Gill said.

“I know he’s been out and about,” Bjerke replied, instructing that McGarty needs to be booked by Friday. A pre-trial is scheduled for Aug. 8.

Jack Felsheim, director of communications and public relations from the diocese, previously issued a statement regarding the case:

“On May 16, 2019, the Diocese of La Crosse learned of a recent situation at the La Crosse Public Library involving Msgr. Bernard McGarty, 94, a retired priest of the Diocese of La Crosse. According to diocesan policy Msgr. McGarty, from this moment forward, is on a leave of absence from public ministry while this current situation is being investigated. Due to this being an ongoing investigation, the Diocese of La Crosse has no further comment at this time.”

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Emily Pyrek can be reached at emily.pyrek@lee.net.


General assignment reporter

Emily Pyrek covers health, human interest stories and anything involving dogs for the La Crosse Tribune. She is always interested in story ideas and can be contacted at emily.pyrek@lee.net.