Pastor steps down after Nienstedt places limits on him for 'boundary violation'

A Catholic priest resigned his church post and the archdiocese temporarily removed a deacon from the ministry.

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File photo of the Rev. Joseph Gallatin

A new look at a claim that a Catholic priest engaged in inappropriate conduct with a minor has resulted in Archbishop John Nienstedt placing restrictions on the priest — and the priest’s resignation as pastor of a Dakota County church.

The Rev. Joseph Gallatin of the Church of St. Peter in Mendota had been on a leave of absence since December pending a review of the alleged “boundary violation.”

In a statement on the church’s website, Gallatin said Sunday that he was “truly sorry for the pain that this has caused the parish.”

Nienstedt is restricting him from any ministry involving minors as a result of a 1998 incident on a mission trip during which Gallatin rubbed a sleeping 17-year-old male’s chest and abdomen under the shirt “because the teen was snoring,” according to a posting on the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis website.

Also Sunday, the archdiocese announced that Nienstedt had temporarily removed Deacon Joseph Damiani of Church of the Annunciation in Minneapolis from ministry while the church reopens an investigation into a “previous allegation of a sexual abuse of a minor” more than 40 years ago — a claim Damiani has denied.

Damiani also serves on staff at Gichitwaa Kateri Catholic Church in Minneapolis in the Office of Indian Affairs.

In the statements issued Sunday, archdiocese leaders said they were not aware of any other allegations of inappropriate behavior with a minor against Gallatin or of any allegation that Damiani “sexually abused a minor or engaged in any sexual misconduct during his ministry.”

Gallatin had been one of two priests placed on leave in late December after their files were reviewed by Kinsale Management Consulting, a Los Angeles firm hired by the archdiocese amid accusations that some Catholic leaders had not adequately addressed allegations of priest sexual abuse.

According to the archdiocese, the Clergy Review Board examined the incident involving Gallatin in 1998 after the teen reported it to chaperones, and that the archdiocese required Gallatin at that time to undergo evaluation, therapy and monitoring.

After the investigation was reopened, however, the board determined that the 1998 action as well as recent evaluations of Gallatin were “concerning enough” to recommend that Nienstedt require Gallatin to continue in the monitoring program and that he limit Gallatin’s ministry so it does not involve minors. Nienstedt accepted the recommendation, and when he told Gallatin, the priest resigned as pastor, Nienstedt said. He is to receive a new, as-yet-unspecified, assignment.

Said Gallatin in his statement to parishioners: “So many of you have been a great help to me during this difficult time, and that makes it especially hard to say goodbye. I will always pray for the people of St. Peter’s, even as I begin a new chapter in my life as a priest.”

In 2013, Damiani sued two brothers and the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests (SNAP) alleging that his brothers falsely accused him of sexually abusing them when they were youths. The case was settled in mediation with SNAP agreeing to remove all references to Damiani from its website.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens said in a statement Sunday that the archdiocese was reopening an investigation into alleged abuse that was said to have occurred decades before Damiani was ordained. The Clergy Review Board recommended the move “to make sure some key facts are clarified and Deacon Damiani’s suitability for ministry established,” Cozzens said.

Archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso said Sunday night that the Damiani situation is not directly related to the Hennepin County defamation suit between the Damiani brothers.

 

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036

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