Duluth diocese releases list of priests accused of abusing children

Diocese’s bishop said all but three of 17 on the list have died.

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Diocese of Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba gestures during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, during which the diocese released the names of priests who were credibly accused of sexually abusing minors.

Photo: Steve Kuchera, AP/Duluth News Tribune

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The diocese of Duluth Tuesday added 17 names to the public roster of Catholic priests who have been credibly accused of molesting children in Minnesota.

The priests served in parishes across northeastern Minnesota, from Brainerd to Grand Rapids to North Shore tourist towns such as Grand Marais. They held positions ranging from school superintendents to Scouting director to church pastor.

None of the priests is in active ministry, according to the diocese, and all but three are dead. The diocese is releasing its list to bring healing on the issue, said Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba.

“The release of this information underscores a sad truth that must be acknowledged: Over the last 65 years, a number of clergy members in the Diocese of Duluth have violated the sacred trust placed in them by children, youth and their families,” Sirba said at a morning news conference.

“These clergy have caused terrible harm to victims, to the victims’ families, to our community, to the church and to the many, many good priests who faithfully carry out their duties to God’s people with love and generosity,” he said.

Duluth is the third diocese to make public its list of accused priests in the past month. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona released their lists after being ordered to to so by a Ramsey County District judge.

The dioceses — as well as most dioceses across the country — had kept secret the lists of “credibly accused” priests, compiled a decade ago for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The revelation of so-called “secret lists” and the manner in which the church hierarchy has handled child sex abuse complaints has roiled Catholics across the state for months. Church leaders have removed a growing number of accused priests, and even Archbishop John Nienstedt has stepped down from his duties pending an investigation of a complaint that he inappropriately touched a boy’s buttocks during a confirmation photo session.

Lawsuits demanding the release of the lists have been filed in every Minnesota diocese by Jeff Anderson & Associates, a St. Paul law firm.

“Any time they release information, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, it is a step in the right direction,” Anderson said.

The 17 names

Names on the list include priests who spent decades in Catholic parishes and leadership. The Rev. Kirby Blanchard, for example, served 40 years in churches in Duluth, Nisswa, Pequot Lakes and beyond, including 17 years as a chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Brainerd. He was removed from ministry in 1995 and died in 2006.

The Rev. John Golobich held 11 different positions, moving repeatedly during his career with the diocese before his death in 2011. His longest stay was nine years at St. James Church in Duluth.

The Duluth diocese has more than 90 parishes and covers 22,000 square miles of rural Minnesota, mining country and popular tourist destinations.

Verne Wagner, northeast Minnesota director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said he hopes the diocese now will begin to release documents showing when and why the abuse happened.

“I was a victim of one of the priests on the list, John Nicholson,” said Wagner, who had sued the diocese in the mid-1990s for abuse that allegedly occurred in the mid-1960s in the Duluth suburb of Proctor. “If this had been released years ago, my town never would have allowed him to work with ­children.”

The release comes several weeks after a lawsuit was filed against the Duluth diocese on behalf of a man who allegedly was abused by the late Rev. Robert Klein, another name on the list. The lawsuit asked the court to order the release of the list.

The man, identified as Doe 28, said he was abused during the 1970s by Klein, then a priest assigned to St. Jean’s Elementary School and Sacred Heart Church in Duluth. The diocese was aware of previous child abuse charges against Klein, the lawsuit charges, but continued to let him work with children.

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