Case alleges abuse by impostor deacon

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 12, 2009 - 10:58 PM

A 28-year-old man is challenging the archdiocese's statements about a con man he says sexually abused him.

A man who alleges that he was sexually abused as a child by a con man posing as a Roman Catholic deacon went public Monday to challenge recent statements made about the case by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Ben Magler, now 28, has filed suit claiming that as an elementary school student he was molested by a deacon at St. Agnes Parish in St. Paul to whom he had gone for counseling. The supposed deacon, Thomas Kemp, later was discovered to be a fraud.

Last Thursday, the victim-advocates group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called a news conference to publicize the case. In response, the archdiocese said that Kemp never served as a deacon.

Magler said that statement is not true.

"I called him Deacon Tom," he said, adding that he did so in front of church leaders who never corrected him. Magler also provided a photograph of a party at his home in which Kemp is wearing a clerical collar.

Archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath said Kemp might have been presenting himself as a deacon, but "that doesn't change the fact that the faculties for a deacon, which have to be issued by the archbishop, were never issued. There is no question about that."

Kemp, now 62, arrived at St. Agnes in 1986 and left both the parish and Minnesota in 1992, the same year the Catholic church started doing background checks on clergy.

Magler said that he also was "very, very frustrated" that the archdiocese didn't acknowledge his abuse allegations until 2007, even though he notified church officials in 2002.

Because of confidentiality rules, "We couldn't say anything until he filed the case," McGrath said. "Once he went public, we could go public, and did."

McGrath also accused Bob Schwiderski, the director of the Minnesota SNAP chapter, of "fomenting this whole situation in order to get publicity for his cause."

Schwiderski responded: "I will take a spear for anyone who has been sexually abused by clergy in this state. It's not about me. It's those who have been harmed that the church has turned its back on."

Magler said that he chose to speak out because the archdiocese's stance "is compounding the pain, the hurt. I'm just looking for closure."

The vast majority of abuse cases involving children are filed anonymously. Magler said he chose to go public as a way of reaching out to other victims.

"I want other adults like me who were sexually abused as children to know that it's OK to come forward," he said. "It's nothing to be ashamed about. By holding [the abusers] accountable, we can take the power back."

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

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