CV NEWS FEED // The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has placed a high-ranking cleric on administrative leave following an investigative piece published by a Catholic website.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee announced on December 1 that it had placed Fr. Mark Payne on administrative leave as it conducted an investigation into Payne’s conduct.
The investigation comes after The Pillar published a report that revealed Payne bought a condo with a layman in 2003. In subsequent years, the layman posted on social media photos of Payne and himself at gay bars, on trips, and in other outings.
Payne was appointed to serve as judicial vicar, a high-ranking official in the archdiocese, and the pastor of two parishes in 2022. In October 2022, Payne hired the layman that he was cohabitating with as a theology teacher at the grade school. In the announcement shared with the parish, Payne said that the teacher “comes to us with a degree in theology, high school teaching experience, and was in formation to join the Jesuit order.”
Payne once referred to the man as his “good friend” when discussing his new position with parishoners, but it was never publicized that they owned a condo together. Last April, the man resigned from his teaching position at the school. Payne told the parish that he resigned in order to “spend more time caring for his family.”
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee stated that they were made aware of Payne’s actions this past August after the Vicar of Priests and clergy received an anonymous complaint. Church officials said that they had spoken with Payne, asking him to consider whether he thought his actions were unbecoming of a priest. The Archdiocese, at the time, said that no formal investigation had been opened.
A day after the story was published, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee informed parishoners at Payne’s parishes that he had been placed on administrative leave and they would receive a temporary pastor as an investigation took place.
A spokesperson for the archdiocese informed the Pillar that Archbishop Jerome Listkei was initiating a formal canonical investigation into Payne’s actions. Fr. Nathan Reesman, the diocesan vicar for clergy, shared with the Pillar that an external investigator would lead the process.
The investigation will be conducted by an expert from another diocese to ensure maximum objectivity. During Father Payne’s administrative leave and the investigation, an administrator will be appointed to serve the parishes, and an acting judicial vicar will be appointed to ensure all necessary duties are handled in his absence. All of these steps are necessary to arrive at the most fair and accurate analysis of the situation for all involved.
Reesman shared insight with the Pillar about the diocese’s handling of the situation up to the publication of the Pillar’s piece. He said that officials had spoken with Payne after receiving the initial complaint.
“We offered him the opportunity to clear up any possible misunderstandings before taking the step of initiating a formal investigation,” said Reesman.
Reesman said that due to the new “publicity” surrounding allegations against Payne, the diocese has “decided to move up our timeline and begin a fuller investigative process.”