The Edina home of a priest who serves a Catholic church in Fridley was searched this week by police investigating possible possession of child pornography.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis informed members of the Church of St. William in Fridley Friday night, shortly after the Star Tribune contacted them about the investigation.
Because the priest has not been arrested or charged, the Star Tribune is not naming him.
Neighbors at his Edina apartment complex called police four times in the past few years about what they said were the sounds of a child crying and “in distress” coming from his apartment. The most recent report was on Feb. 8.
Police investigated each time, but did not find a child in the priest’s apartment. But in an interview with Edina police this week, the priest admitted he had pornography on his computer, according to the search warrant request. The search sought evidence of possession or distribution of child pornography.
Friday evening, the archdiocese issued a news release saying the priest has taken a “voluntary leave of absence” pending the outcome of the case. While on leave, he is not permitted to exercise any priestly duties.
“The Archdiocesan Office of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment has cooperated, and continues to cooperate, with the Edina Police Department,” the archdiocese statement said. “Our understanding is that [the priest] has been cooperative as well.”
As part of their investigation, Edina police met with archdiocese staff working on child safety issues on Feb. 6, the search warrant request said. At that time, police were shown the archdiocese’s file on the priest, according to the search warrant request. There they learned about previous complaints about the priest’s “concerning behaviors,” which included giving bear hugs to grade-school age boys and encouraging older altar boys to step down so younger ones could serve.
Tim O’Malley, director of the ministerial standards office, had met with the priest, the search warrant request says, and “made it very clear” that he was not allowed to have any children in his home unless they were direct relatives, or to meet with any children unless their parents gave consent, according to the request.
Police seized the priest’s computer, iPhone, iPods, DVDs and CDs Thursday afternoon.
The Office of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment was established in response to the recent wave of accusations of clergy child sex abuse.
Child victims’ attorney Jeff Anderson said Friday that he is concerned that the archdiocese is violating its own policies in this case, in particular by not immediately notifying parishioners when their priest came under police investigation.
“Under the new agreements and protocol, as soon as there is suspicion of abuse, police must be called and the people who need to know [parishioners] must be told the truth,” Anderson said. “And you don’t say they are ‘on leave.’ They can put them on leave, but they have to say why.”
In addition to the Church of St. William, the priest under investigation has served in at least eight other churches, according to the Catholic Spirit newspaper. They are the Church of Our Lady of the Lake in Mound, the Church of St. Michael in Pine Island, the Church of St. Paul in Zumbrota, Annunciation Church in Minneapolis, the Church of St. George in Long Lake, St. Margaret Mary Church in Golden Valley, St. John the Evangelist in Little Canada and Holy Trinity Church in St. Paul.