St. Cloud diocese sued for alleged abuse

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 13, 2011 - 11:00 PM

Accuser says he was 6 when ex-deacon molested him.

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Lawyer Jeff Anderson held a press conference at his St. Paul office about a lawsuit filed today in Hennepin County which accuses former deacon and child welfare advocate Michael Weber of abusing Anderson's client, referred to in the complaint as "John Doe HT," when Doe was a 6 year old boy nearly 40 years ago. Doe lives in Virginia now and participated in the press conference by speaker phone, agreeing to be addressed simply as "Terry." Projected in the background is a photo of Weber. Photographed December 13, 2011.

Photo: Courtney Perry, Dml - Special To The Star Tribun

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Attorneys for a 47-year-old man filed suit Tuesday in Minneapolis claiming he was sexually abused about 40 years ago by a former Catholic deacon and prominent Minnesota child welfare advocate.

Identified as "John Doe HT" in the complaint, the man alleges he was 6 years old when Michael W. Weber molested him during a camping trip in 1970 at a lake near Alexandria, Minn. At the time, Weber was a deacon at Church of the Holy Spirit in St. Cloud.

"It's my sincere desire Michael Weber be held responsible for his crimes," said the man, who resides in the state of Virginia and who identified himself as Terry when he spoke to reporters in St. Paul by telephone. "Hopefully, this can save some other kids from having to go through the same thing."

The suit was announced by St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who has filed multiple sex abuse suits against Catholic clergy, the Twin Cities archdiocese and the Vatican.

The suit, filed in Hennepin County District Court, is the first against Weber, 67, since allegations emerged last month accusing him of molesting two boys about the time he served as the church's deacon from 1969 to 1970. The lawsuit, which names the Diocese of St. Cloud and Weber as defendants, says the diocese knew of Weber's alleged behavior but did not report it to police.

Minneapolis attorney Francis Rondoni, who represents Weber, did not return phone calls on Tuesday seeking comment. Jane Marrin, a diocese spokeswoman, declined to comment, saying the diocese has not yet reviewed the suit.

Rondoni has previously said that it's difficult for Weber to respond "to purported allegations that are more than 40 years old."

Weber "has been a leader in the community here for many decades and has a spotless reputation. And this is very concerning to him," the lawyer said.

Diocese airs allegations

The St. Cloud diocese held a "listening session" at Church of the Holy Spirit on Dec. 4 to air allegations from two St. Cloud men who said they were abused by Weber in 1969, when they were 11 years old. Four other alleged victims came forward at the session, including Terry.

Although the St. Cloud men reported the incidents to law enforcement authorities last month, criminal charges are not likely because the statute of limitations has expired, authorities say.

Since the listening session was announced in mid-November, Weber has resigned from the board of the Greater Twin Cities United Way and other prominent community positions.

He has served as associate director and acting executive director of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse. He is past director of Hennepin County Community Services Department and was an assistant commissioner in the state Department of Human Services.

According to the lawsuit, Terry was on the camping trip with a group of Catholic families that included his parents and Weber, who "selected John Doe HT to stay in his tent with him."

The next morning, the child ran screaming to his parents and told them Weber had sexually abused him during the night. The suit said the parents later confronted a counselor employed by the diocese, who discouraged them from going to police and acknowledged treating Weber for pedophilia.

Abuse 'changed everything'

On Tuesday, Terry said the abuse has "affected me in every part of my life, from drug and alcoholic addiction to divorce to low self-esteem to failed relationships with my family. No spiritual life to speak of. I'm still to this day not really a believer, but I hope to be one day. I would say that incident changed me, changed everything about me, from being a nice little innocent kid to the exact opposite."

Anderson said Terry reported the abuse on Dec. 3 to Douglas County authorities, who are still investigating the incident. The suit seeks more than $50,000 in damages, plus attorney's and other fees.

Anderson said that if the diocese had come forward sooner with reports against Weber, he might not have "continued to prosper. ... They chose to take a gamble. They chose to take a risk. The risk was [that] other kids would be hurt. They chose instead to protect their reputation."

Four of the alleged victims attended the diocese's listening session 10 days ago -- which was not open to the news media. A fifth was represented by someone else at the meeting, Marrin said. A sixth wrote a letter claiming abuse that was noted at the meeting.

The diocese has another listening session planned for Monday at the church.

"At this point, it's still going on," Marrin said.

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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