Wisconsin priest suspended after social media posts reveal alleged relationship with another man

Author: Greg Owen

A conservative Catholic investigative publication has turned a spotlight on the activities of a Wisconsin priest and the man he has “cohabitated” with for several years, resulting in the priest’s suspension from his duties as a pastor at two Wisconsin parishes and as a judicial vicar in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

On Friday, the Archdiocese suspended him.

According to The Pillar and Fox6 News in Milwaukee, Payne has co-owned a two-bedroom, two-bath duplex near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with the unidentified man since 2003.

The Pillar’s reporting also included revelations that the man with whom Payne shared the condo had been convicted twice for driving under the influence; one charge included possession of cocaine, which was later dropped in a plea deal.

In addition to his duties with the Milwaukee Archdiocese, Payne also had a national ministry as chaplain of “Heart of the Nation,” a weekly televised mass syndicated to local television stations and cable channels and also streamed on YouTube.  

In October 2022, Payne announced to families at St. Monica’s School that he had hired the man he was living with as a middle school theology teacher.

He “comes to us with a degree in theology, high school teaching experience, and was in formation to join the Jesuit order,” Payne wrote to families announcing the hire.

At a Christmas party that year, Payne introduced the teacher to parishioners as his “good friend.”

According to The Pillar, Payne’s housemate had depicted them for years as a romantic couple in social media posts the site reviewed, sharing vacations and holidays together, redecorating their condo, and posting photos from Pride events and gay bars and clubs in both Milwaukee and around the world. 

One post described the pair with “another couple,” in the man’s words.

Several unidentified individuals in the archdiocese told The Pillar the social media posts were well known among some, who had concerns about how the priest was depicted in them.

In April, Payne announced his “good friend” was “resigning from his teaching position … in order to dedicate more time to caring for his family.”

In August, according to The Pillar, the archdiocesan vicar for clergy’s office was tipped off about the social media posts but took no formal action – nor did they make any formal recommendations regarding Payne’s “co-habitation” with the layman, beyond having “spoken with” the priest.

After The Pillar’s compendium of charges published last week, however, the Church took action, putting Payne on administrative leave as the Archdiocese launched a “formal investigation” on an allegation of a “consensual relationship.”

In the report, the conservative publication seemed to take some satisfaction in the irony of recent remarks from Pope Francis and his allies urging Church leaders to pursue canonical discipline of clerics now potentially applied to an individual who could be LGBTQ+.

Francis recently disciplined a number of American, MAGA-aligned clergy, including one viciously anti-LGBTQ+ cardinal whom he demoted and evicted from his Vatican apartment.

“While Pope Francis has urged diocesan bishops to take more seriously the canonical discipline of clerics,” The Pillar wrote, “the outgoing chairman of the U.S. bishops’ canonical affairs committee has not taken steps to address canonically reports of public cohabitation by a senior-ranking official in his archdiocese.”

As of last Friday, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee found itself forced to do so.

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Actual Story on LGBTQ Nation
Author: Greg Owen

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