The archdiocese’s publication of a list of metro priests deemed to have abused kids is unprecedented in Minnesota.
The Rev. Jerome Kern was sued for fondling boys in a swimming pool and a lake. The Rev. John T. Brown was sued over a molestation that occurred in a sex education class. The Rev. Francis Hoefgen was sued for abusing a youth living with him as a foster son.
The three priests were among 30 identified on a list of clergy who have been credibly accused of abusing boys and girls, a list that was made public Thursday by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis after it had been held secret for 10 years.
Some have only been accused of abuse; others found guilty. Some are dead, but most are alive. Some of the cases have been widely known; others are just coming to light.
The publication of the list, which came after a court order, is unprecedented in Minnesota. It marks the beginning of a new protocol within the archdiocese in which it has pledged to continue identifying any priests found to have abused a child.
It also is spurring calls by the St. Paul police for victims to step forward and demands from victims’ advocates for names of “the rest” — priests they believe should have been named.
“It’s very important that these names be out there,” said the Rev. Tom Doyle, a Virginia-based canon lawyer who has testified on behalf of victims in abuse cases in civil courts.
“It may enable more victims to step forward and begin the process of healing. It will allow people who are around the priests to know what they’re accused of. And it’s a step in the gradual revelation that the archdiocese has handled these cases poorly,” Doyle said.
The list spans more than 60 years, from 1950 to 2012. The sexual abuse of children by priests swept across metro-area parishes, 92 in all, from Lake Elmo to Hopkins.
Most, but not all, victims were boys. And some parishes were made particularly vulnerable: Three abusive priests served together in 1984 in the same parish — St. Joseph’s in Lino Lakes — Pastor Lee Krautkremer and priests Timothy McCarthy and Robert Zasacki.
Some priests on the lists were transferred to a dozen different parishes.
Still, victims’ advocates were skeptical that just 30 priests could have been credibly accused over such a long time span. They’re already trying to determine whether any other names should have been given.
Archbishop John Nienstedt, in a written statement Thursday, said more names will be added and put on the archdiocese’s website if additional claims are substantiated.
“The disclosures made today are not intended to be final,” the archbishop wrote.
Most named before
The full list of 34 names, which includes four priests who were the subjects of unsubstantiated abuse claims, was made public after a court order following continuing allegations of clergy sexual abuse and of coverups by some church officials. Thirty-two of the priests were accused of abusing children, and two were accused of sex with women.
Most have been named in criminal charges and civil lawsuits dating as far back as the early 1960s, but at least eight names are new to the public domain. They include McCarthy, the Rev. Paul Palmitessa and the Rev. Richard Skluzacek.
The disclosure was ordered Monday in St. Paul by Judge John B. Van de North Jr., who gave the archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona until Dec. 17 to release their lists. The Winona Diocese has not announced when its disclosure will take place.
A second list of priests identified over the past decade must be submitted to the court by Jan. 6.
Several priests on the archdiocese’s list have denied wrongdoing. One of them, the Rev. Joseph Wajda, strongly denied again Thursday that he abused anyone. Wajda, 66, of Minneapolis, has been accused of child sex abuse in three lawsuits and was permanently removed from ministry in 2003, though he is still a priest. He said he continues to fight to clear his name under canon law proceedings.
“When I stand before the judgment of God, I will be vindicated from this stuff,” Wajda said.
The list names several priests who were placed in new parishes without the church giving any warning to families that they had been the subject of alleged or confirmed sexual misconduct, including Kern and the Rev. Thomas Adamson.
Jamie Heutmaker and Al Michaud, who were abused in separate instances by Kern in the late 1960s and 1970s and later received settlements, said at a news conference that the list will help end clergy abuse.
“If they only did the right thing when things were first reported, we wouldn’t be here,” Michaud said.
Jim Keenan, who was abused by Adamson in the 1980s, said he is disappointed in the archdiocese for waiting so long to go public with the list. He said he hopes law enforcement agencies will pursue criminal charges.
Eleven of the 34 priests named Thursday are dead. Another cleric, the Rev. Ronan Liles, is believed to be dead, the archdiocese reported. All were removed from the ministry at some point, including two as recently as 2012 — the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer and Palmitessa.
Catholic parishioners had mixed reaction to the list, which first appeared on the website of the Catholic Spirit newspaper.
Heading to mass at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis on Thursday, David Erb said he was glad to see the list released.
“It’s about 50 years overdue,’’ said Erb of St. Paul. “They’ve been hiding it too long. It’s good for the church. It was making people second guess the motives of leadership.”
Added Tom Williams of Bloomington, “I think the good Lord is up there shaking his head.”
Richard Layer, on his way to mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul, said it was time to release the list and move on.
“It’s like a boxer getting his glove caught in a rope: Anyone who walks by can take a swing,” said Layer of St. Paul.
St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, whose lawsuit filed in Ramsey County on behalf of a victim became the vehicle for prying open the list, called Thursday’s release a “sorrowful and partial’’ victory.
“Today our communities are safer, survivors know that they are not alone and law enforcement will have more information about the crimes committed within this archdiocese,” Anderson said at a news conference. “We applaud each and every courageous survivor who has broken the silence and fought for this day.”
Meanwhile, St. Paul police spokesman Howie Padilla said the department is reviewing the list and has heard from “several” victims who have come forward recently. “Come to us and let us hear your stories,” he said. “That’s what we need to start investigations.”
Nienstedt again apologized for the decades-long scandal in the archdiocese, which serves more than 800,000 Roman Catholics across 12 counties.
“This is a tragedy that has caused insufferable harm to victims, their families, parishioners and the Church,” he wrote. “I must say once again to all victims of this abuse: I am so sorry for the pain you have endured.”
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