Documents made public Wednesday in a sexual abuse lawsuit against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis show that the Rev. Joseph Wajda was allowed to continue working as a priest and in an administrative role in the church despite allegations that he abused boys.
One month after Wajda was ordained in 1973, there was an allegation that he propositioned a young boy, and his alleged misconduct carried on for several more years, according to documents released by attorney Jeff Anderson.
“The Wajda documents show how current Archbishop of St. Louis Robert Carlson, while serving in roles including chancellor and auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in the 1970s-1990s, along with other Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis officials, mishandled and minimized child sexual abuse allegations against Wajda,” said a statement from Anderson’s office.
Wajda, now 67, was permanently removed from ministry in 2003 and laicized in 2013. He lives in Minneapolis and has denied abusing children.
“We offer our assurances that today we handle things differently regarding priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children,” said a statement from the vicar general of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Rev. Charles Lachowitzer. “We ask for forgiveness from and pray for hope and healing for all victims of sexual abuse and their families.”
The archdiocese was court-ordered to produce thousands of pages of documents, including material chronicling Wajda’s alleged abuse, for a lawsuit filed by Anderson against the church and former priest Tom Adamson.
According to the documents, two priests Wajda worked with were concerned about Wajda’s inordinate interest in young boys, the Rev. William Kenney, executive secretary of the Priests’ Personnel Board, wrote in 1996 to the Rev. Kenneth Pierre.
A document dated Jan. 17, 1989, and labeled “strictly confidential” chronicles Wajda’s alleged grooming and abuse of one boy starting in 1982. The Rev. Michael O’Connell interviewed Wajda’s victim in the fall of 1988 and addressed a letter about his findings to former Archbishop John Roach and sent copies to the Rev. Kevin McDonough and St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson, then an auxiliary bishop in the Twin Cities.
“I found [the boy] to be a very credible and normal young man,” O’Connell wrote. During a second interview with O’Connell in 1989, the boy “dissolved into tears and anger” and divulged more details that he had been too ashamed to reveal before.
According to O’Connell’s letter: The boy said Wajda began grooming him in 1982 by inviting him to play racquetball. Wajda started giving the boy $40 to $50 a week, creating a “naive dependency on the boy’s part.”
Wajda eventually began bringing the boy to his office.
“[The boy] describes Wajda as asking [the boy] to take his clothes off; sometimes ‘accidentally’ bumping into his genitals — [the boy] knew it was purposeful on Wajda’s part,” O’Connell wrote. “Wajda would have [the boy] lay on the floor and assume various positions while he was undressed.”
Wajda also had the boy perform a “birthday spanking ritual,” where the boy was partly or completely undressed but never physically spanked. The boy told O’Connell that the abuse he suffered occurred “hundreds of times.”
O’Connell recommended that Wajda be placed under the church’s child abuse policy with suspension and be removed from the parish.
In 1989, Wajda was sent to St. Luke’s Institute, a treatment facility operated by the Catholic Church. Upon his return, he was assigned as associate priest in 1990 to the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul.
Wajda was a student at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., from 1992 to 1994, and served on the Archdiocese Tribunal from 1996 until 2002, hearing disciplinary matters and annulments.