The Rev. Jerome Kern, who has been accused of child sex abuse by at least 20 individuals, testified that no one in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis ever asked him how many boys he had abused or reported him to police, according to a court deposition released Tuesday.
Kern, now 73, described his actions toward boys as “wrestling” or “jostling.” He admitted to abusing three boys but denied abusing others on a longer list presented by attorneys whose client says Kern abused him in the 1970s.
“I thought it was appropriate to wrestle, to hug, you know, someone,” Kern said. “I never thought of anything as sexual. And I thought it was legitimate recreation.”
Kern’s testimony came in response to a lawsuit filed last year by a man, now in his 50s, who charged Kern with “sexual battery” from 1972 to 1976 while Kern served an Edina church. The suit claims that the victim was abused several times from age 12 to 16, with Kern touching the boy’s genitals and making him perform oral sex.
Kern had been transferred to Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Edina in 1969, after parents at a St. Paul church informed the archdiocese that the priest had sexually fondled their two school-age sons, attorney Jeff Anderson said.
Despite abuse reports starting as early as the 1960s, Kern remained in ministry for nearly 35 years, serving from Edina to Minnetonka to Forest Lake. He retired in 2002.
The lawsuit is among dozens filed against church officials statewide over the past year, in response to a new law that extends the statute of limitations for civil actions over alleged abuse. Anderson’s law firm has publicly released depositions by Archbishop John Nienstedt and former Archbishop Harry Flynn, among others.
Archdiocese spokesman James Accurso had no comment.
The archdiocese included Kern on the list of 30 credibly accused priests it released to the court in December and removed him from ministry in 2012.
In his deposition, Kern testified that it wasn’t uncommon for him to wrestle with boys or horse around. He thought engaging with youths was the hallmark of a good priest.
After Edina, Kern was assigned to Immaculate Heart of Mary in Minnetonka, where he was later accused of abuse.
No one from the archdiocese ever informed him that his behavior was a crime or reprimanded him for his actions, Kern said. He was sent for evaluation at the Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico, which evaluates priests accused of sexual misconduct.
In a 1987 letter introducing Kern to the facility, then archdiocese Vicar General Michael O’Connell wrote: “Knowing what we know now about pedophilia and about how it is rarely a singular act, we would have some reason to question Fr. Kern’s insistence that the event of the summer … was a singular act.”
Kern said that he considered himself bisexual and that he would fantasize about “ladies and men.” He currently receives a pension from the archdiocese, as well as Social Security, and is supposed to meet with an archdiocese monitor every couple of months, he said.