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Joe Ternus, the Hugo man who reported the pornography on the computer some 10 years ago, on Friday turned over to St. Paul police another copy he had made of the computer files that included the pornography. He said he had forgotten until recently that he had kept the copy.
“I burned it and put it in my safe” because the archdiocesan investigator he dealt with years ago “was very gruff, almost to the point of bullying,” Ternus said. “Ostensibly, it should be the same as what [police] got from the archdiocese.”
Police spokesman Howie Padilla said that investigators will examine the new information to see if it warrants reopening the case.
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), called the case “dreadfully depressing and painfully familiar at the same time.” He said the archdiocese may have acted “even more deceitfully and recklessly” than Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, who was convicted last year of failing to tell police about child pornography found on a priest’s computer until five months had elapsed.
“Had any one of a number of top church staffers simply done the right thing and called 911, I’ll bet [the Twin Cities priest] would have been in prison for the last decade and still be there, safely away from kids,” Clohessy said.
Anderson called for a joint state and federal investigation into the archdiocesan hierarchy on suspicion of obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence and other crimes. “We have seen enough evidence, both documentary and otherwise, that demonstrate to us that criminal charges need to be brought against a number of top officials, including the archbishop [John Nienstedt], [the Revs.] Kevin McDonough and [Peter] Laird. And search warrants and subpoenas should be issued if they haven’t already been,” Anderson said.
Laird, who resigned Thursday from his No. 2 position at the archdiocese, said in a written statement that he is hopeful that his decision “can help repair the trust of many, especially the victims of abuse.”
The archdiocese said Thursday that Laird’s resignation, which became effective immediately, “was his decision alone. He did nothing improper.”
Laird had served since 2009 as vicar general and moderator of the curia for the archdiocese, making him junior only to Nienstedt.
The archdiocese said Laird “will continue to serve in a variety of roles within the archdiocese.”
McDonough was vicar general and moderator of the curia from 1991 to 2008.
The porn allegations involving the priest date to September 2004. Ternus said the archdiocese was tearing down the home where the accused priest had been living and asked his father if he’d like the priest’s old desktop computer. Ternus said his mom asked him to check out the computer. When it booted up, he said he saw an icon for a dial-up connection to a porn website.
He searched the computer and found what appeared to be thousands of sexual images and some videos of “an extreme nature” stored in cached files. He said he shut down the computer after reviewing about a half-dozen files.
“Nothing that I saw looked like child porn,” Ternus said.
Even so, he reported what he found to the archdiocese and said McDonough told him the matter would be dealt with properly. A short time later, he said, an investigator came out and took the computer’s hard drive.
Nothing in police files indicate where the hard drive is located, or if it still exists. But investigators reviewed all three discs reportedly made by Ternus and the forensics expert.
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493