The Diocese of St. Cloud, faced with a lawsuit and mounting public pressure, has released a list of 33 Catholic priests it believes "were likely involved in the sexual abuse of minors."
At least 16 of the priests were already known to the public through lawsuits and media reports. Several had been named as likely abusers last month by St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Twenty-one of the priests are dead, according to a statement released late Friday by the diocese. The list does not include any information about the abuse allegations or how the diocese evaluated the claims. It includes the name of each priest, his parish assignments, and whether he's still living — and if so, his town of residence. Several of the priests are listed as "Status Unknown."
The men are:
• Robert Blumeyer, OSB (Order of St. Benedict): Deceased. (Blumeyer was also included on a list released by St. John's Abbey.)
• Michael Brennan, TOR (Third Order Regular of Saint Francis): Status Unknown
• Anthony Canu, TOR: Status Unknown
•Cosmos Dalheimer, OSB: Deceased (Dahlheimer was also included on a list released by St. John's Abbey and another released by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in December.)
• John Eccleston: Deceased
• Richard Eckroth, OSB: Currently residing in Collegeville. (Eckroth was also included on a list released by St. John's Abbey in December.)
• Sylvester Gall: Deceased
• William Garding: Deceased
• Raoul Gauthier: Deceased
• Thomas Gillespie, OSB: Currently residing in Collegeville (Gillespie was also included on a list released by St. John's Abbey in December.)
• Stanislaus Goryczka: Deceased
•Francis Hoefgen, OSB: Address unknown (Hoefgen was also included on a list released by St. John's Abbey and another released by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in December.)
• Othmar Hohmann, OSB: Deceased
• Raymond Jacques: St. Peter and Paul, Sauk Centre; Assumption, Morris; St. Anne's, Kimball. Deceased
• Val Klimek: Deceased
• Reginald Krakowski, TOR: Current Status Unknown
• Joseph Kremer: Deceased
• Richard Kujawa: Deceased
• Henry Lutgen: Deceased
•Brennan Maiers, OSB: Currently residing in Collegeville (Maiers was also included on a list released by St. John's Abbey and another released by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in December.)
• James Mohm: Deceased
• Donald Rieder: Deceased
• Francisco Schulte, OSB: Collegeville
• Robert Smith: Deceased
• Peter Snyers: Deceased
• Allan Speiser: Deceased
• James Thoennes: Currently residing in St. Cloud
•Roger Vaughn, OSC (Canons Regular of the Order of the Holy Cross (Crosiers)): Currently residing in New York (Vaughn was also included on a list released by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in December.)
•Michael Weber: Currently residing in the Twin Cities
• William Wey: Deceased
• Adelbert Wolski, TOR: Current Status Unknown
• Vincent Yzermanns: Deceased
• Francis Zilkowski: Deceased
Eckroth, Gillespie, Maiers, Schulte, Weber, Vaughn and Hoefgen could not be reached for comment. Thoennes declined to comment.
The release of names by the St. Cloud diocese comes after the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Diocese of Winona, St. John's Abbey and the Diocese of Duluth released similar lists last month.
• MPR News investigation: Archdiocese under scrutiny
Abuse victims and their lawyers have asked bishops for years to disclose information about priests who sexually abused children. Those efforts gained traction in recent months after MPR News reported that the Twin Cities archdiocese failed to report abuse claims to police and gave special payments to pedophile priests.
St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler, in a one-page statement accompanying the list, said, "It is my hope that the release of these names will provide validation to those victims who have been sexually abused and have already come forward. I pray it will also give strength to those who have remained silent and allow them to come forward."
Kettler has served as the bishop of St. Cloud since November 2013. He handled fallout from the clergy sexual abuse scandal at his previous assignment as bishop of the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, which filed for bankruptcy in 2008 because of demands for financial settlements by more than 100 victims of clergy sexual abuse. Kettler declined to be interviewed.
The Diocese of St. Cloud released the names one day after Bob Ethen — a Sartell man who said he was sexually abused as a child in 1965 by the Rev. James Thoennes — filed a lawsuit against the diocese, accusing it of creating a public nuisance by keeping information about abusive priests secret.
Ethen, 61, said he hopes the release of the names helps other victims and "puts the church on notice that no one's going to put up with this anymore."
Attorney Mike Finnegan, who represents Ethen, called the release today "a step in the right direction" but said he's still seeking the disclosure of all information on abusive priests, not just the names.
The release of the St. Cloud names leaves New Ulm and Crookston as the only Minnesota Catholic dioceses yet to disclose the names of likely offenders. Victims' attorneys have asked judges to force the disclosure of lists in both dioceses. A hearing on the New Ulm list is scheduled for Monday, and a judge's decision is expected soon in the Crookston case.
Diocese of St. Cloud releases the names of 33 priests it says "likely abused minors"
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, did not say Monday whether the two Minnesota bishops had been or would be judged by the tribunal. “It is a valid question,” Father Lombardi said. “I have no information for now.”
Asked if the formation of the tribunal might have been a factor in the resignations, Father Lombardi said, “I don’t know if you can make that specific of a connection.”
But there is a determination within the church, he said, “to face several different situations.”
Archbishop Nienstedt also attended the bishop’s conference last week in St. Louis as did the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, whose portfolio includes helping to handle personnel problems in the American hierarchy.
John J. Choi, the prosecutor in Ramsey County, Minn., said the resignations would not affect his office’s criminal and civil cases against the archdiocese, which accused church leaders of failing to intervene against a priest despite repeated complaints of misconduct. That priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, has since been defrocked and imprisoned on sexual abuse charges involving boys in his parish.
“While today’s resignation will be viewed as a positive development by many in our community, the pending criminal action and civil petition and the ongoing investigation will continue,” Mr. Choi said in a statement. “As we have said, the goals of our actions are to hold the Archdiocese accountable, seek justice for the victims and our community, and to take appropriate steps to ensure that what we have alleged and intend to prove about the past conduct of church officials will never be repeated.”
In accepting the resignations, the pope appointed the Rev. Bernard A. Hebda, a coadjutor archbishop of Newark, as apostolic administrator to oversee the Minnesota archdiocese. The Vatican also announced on Monday that it would open a trial in July of its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, on charges of sexually abusing boys while he served in the Caribbean and of possessing child pornography.
The Minnesota and Missouri church leaders are hardly the first bishops to resign under scrutiny or accusations that they failed abuse victims. Since the papacy of John Paul II — now St. John Paul — began in 1978, 16 other bishops have resigned or been forced from office under a cloud of accusations that they mishandled abuse cases, according to research by BishopAccountability.org, an advocacy group in Waltham, Mass. Archbishop Nienstedt is the 17th, by that group’s count.
Archbishop Nienstedt had become one of the most embattled figures in the American Catholic hierarchy, under fire in the courts, in the pews and on newspaper editorial pages. He had refused to resign about a year ago after coming under sharp criticism from his own former chancellor for canonical affairs, Jennifer M. Haselberger, who charged that the church used a chaotic system of record keeping that helped conceal the backgrounds of guilty priests who remained on assignment.
He did, however, apologize at the time for his conduct, saying that while he had never knowingly covered up sexual abuse by clergy members, he had become “too trusting of our internal process and not as hands-on as I could have been in matters of priest misconduct.”
On Monday, he said he would “leave with a clear conscience knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.”
Archbishop Nienstedt was himself the subject of two recent investigations into possible misconduct, though no findings of wrongdoing have been announced.
In one case, a boy told the police that the archbishop touched his buttocks while posing for a photograph after his confirmation ceremony. The archbishop denied wrongdoing and temporarily stepped aside while the authorities investigated. No charges were filed after an investigation, and Archbishop Nienstedt returned to work.
In another case, the archdiocese announced that it had received “claims regarding alleged misbehavior” against Archbishop Nienstedt that did not involve minors. The claims were said to be about a series of sexual relationships with men, including seminarians and priests. The church announced an investigation into that matter last year. The archdiocese’s communications director, Tom Halden, would not answer questions Monday about the status of that inquiry.
The Rev. Andrew Cozzens, an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who will remain in his post, spoke briefly to reporters Monday about the resignations. He read only from a statement, which noted that there “will be many unanswered questions as we take this significant transitional step.”
“This has been a painful process,” said Bishop Cozzens, who asked for prayers for sexual abuse survivors and for the archdiocese. “A change in leadership offers us an opportunity for greater healing and the ability to move forward.”
Critics of the archdiocese said the resignations, while not surprising, were only another step in addressing the deep-seated concerns with the archdiocese and its leaders.
Jeff Anderson, a lawyer in Minnesota who has represented victims of sexual abuse by clergy, said more top officials needed to be held accountable for their actions, and that criminal charges would be appropriate for some of them.
Mr. Anderson attributed Monday’s developments to the criminal charges against the archdiocese and unflattering disclosures made in recent civil cases. Many of those lawsuits were made possible by legislation that allowed victims to sue the church over abuse that happened years ago, and for which the statute of limitations had expired.
“This is about a culture and system that has been intractable,” Mr. Anderson said. “It needs to continue on a headlong course toward full accountability and full disclosure.”Continue reading the main story