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Former Eau Claire minister ordered to pay $1 million in punitive damages

October 8, 2011

Pastor sexually abused woman at Minnesota church

Statement by John Pilmaier, SNAP Wisconsin Director

October 8, 2011

CONTACT: 414. 336.8575

The Winona Daily News is reporting that Donald Dean Budd, former pastor of McKinley United Methodist Church in Winona Minnesota has been ordered to pay $1 million dollars in punitive damages to a woman he sexually abused.  In addition he will be responsible for paying a portion of the $410,000 in compensatory damages which were also awarded to the victim in a civil suit. 

The Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, which supervised Budd was ordered to pay $164,000 in compensatory damages.  The woman reported the abuse to church authorities, who according to court documents, dropped the investigation after calling the woman uncooperative.

Donald Budd, a Methodist minister who once served in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, was found guilty of felony sexual abuse charges.  Budd sexually abused the woman between 2003 and 2005 when she came to him for counseling services.  Budd pled guilty in 2009 and was sentenced to 15 years probation.

The victim in this case is to be commended for having the courage to come forward and report her abuse to law enforcement officials.  The jury verdict in her civil case sends a strong message to the community, to religious ministers, and to churches of all denominations that sexual abuse will not be tolerated.  

Under existing Wisconsin law it is a crime for a therapist to sexually exploit a patient.  The current statute (WI state statute 895.441) defines a “therapist” as a physician, psychologist, social worker, marriage and family therapist, professional counselor, nurse, chemical dependency counselor, member of the clergy or other person, whether or not licensed or certified by the state, who performs or purports to perform psychotherapy.

Members of the clergy, also have a duty to report the suspected violation of this statute.  Wisconsin state statute 940.22 states that if a member of the clergy believes a client has been sexually exploited in the context of a therapeutic relationship they must inform the client of their duty to report.

The existing statute is quite clear that whether a member of the clergy is licensed by the state to practice psychotherapy or not is irrelevant.  Clergy of all denominations regularly provide counseling services to members of their congregations. They represent themselves to the faithful as professionals who are capable of providing this service. Frequently they come into contact with vulnerable adults who studies show are being sexually exploited by them at an alarming rate.

In a study conducted at the Baylor University School of Social Work, researcher Diana Garland found that in an average congregation with 400 adult members, at least seven women over the age of eighteen will have been victims of clergy sexual misconduct.

Professionally trained therapists, social workers, and counselors are, and should be, prosecuted under this state statue when they sexually violate a client in the context of a counseling relationship.

We encourage the law enforcement community in Wisconsin to vigorously prosecute those members of the clergy who violate this statute.  The sexual exploitation of a vulnerable adult in a counseling relationship is a heinous crime.  The prosecution of these crimes should be commensurate with the damage that is inflicted upon the victim and society.

SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org.

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