Archdiocese puts pastor of Whitefish Bay and Fox Point parishes on leave, under investigation

— The Archdiocese of Milwaukee put a priest on administrative leave as it investigates an allegation of a consensual relationship.

Fr. Mark Payne

By Kelly Meyerhofer

Fr. Mark Payne serves in the senior Archdiocese of Milwaukee position of judicial vicar. He has also been pastor of two North Shore parishes since 2022: St. Eugene in Fox Point and St. Monica in Whitefish Bay. In addition, he is chaplain of the national TV Mass produced by Wisconsin-based Heart of the Nation.

Catholic news website “The Pillar” on Thursday, Nov. 30, first reported allegations that Payne was in an apparent relationship with another man, and the priest hired that man to teach at St. Monica School.

A day later, on Friday, the archdiocese announced it had pulled the pastor from the parishes and placed him on administrative leave.

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City of Milwaukee property records, reviewed by FOX6 News, showed the priest and the other man co-owned a duplex near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It showed they bought the two-bedroom, two-bathroom home in 2003 for $245,000.

Courtesy: Heart of the Nation

As “The Pillar” also first reported, the other man was arrested in 2018 for an OWI and a second charge that was dismissed: possessing cocaine.

The criminal complaint, obtained by FOX6 News, noted that police alleged finding in the man’s pockets and wallet a total of seven baggies with a white substance that tested positive for the presence of cocaine. The complaint also said the man “admitted to using cocaine.” However, a Milwaukee County judge dismissed that charge as part of a plea deal. The complaint noted the man had been convicted of a separate OWI in 2016.

The archdiocese’s letter sent to parishioners on Dec. 1 declared: “Father was told his hiring of the grade school teacher was not appropriate. Father Payne assured us that he is faithful to his priestly vows and that the information painted a misleading picture of the situation.”

Archbishop Jerome Listecki

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee vicar for clergy, Fr. Nathan Reesman, wrote parishioners that the archdiocese had known about the allegations and was allowing Fr. Payne to “clear up any possible misunderstandings before taking the step of initiating a formal investigation.”

The archdiocese’s communications director, Sandra Peterson, added in an email to FOX that the archdiocese “had already been conducting an inquiry, and on Friday the archbishop called for a formal investigation. That’s the next step after an inquiry, so this was already in the middle of the process.”

In light of the story, the archdiocesan letter reported it moved up the timeline, as Archbishop Jerome Listecki launched a formal investigation to be led by an expert from another diocese “to ensure maximum objectivity.”

The archdiocese asked parishioners to “please pray for the next steps in this situation, for Father Payne, for his parish communities, and for all those impacted by this information.”

After news broke, the parishes wrote an email to parishioners on Saturday. It said the two parishes’ pastoral councils, finance councils and trustees met “to discuss how to move forward in light of the information learned yesterday.”

The email continued, “We ask for your patience as this process unfolds and also ask that we as parish communities pledge to not engage in gossip and speculation regarding the current situation and trust the investigative process undertaken by the archdiocese.”

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