Minn. Priests Named In Sexual Abuse Scandal

Minneapolis — The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis released a list Thursday of 32 priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

The list was published in the online edition of The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper, in response to ongoing litigation of childhood sexual abuse cases in Ramsey County against the church and individual priests. Many of the priests named have previously been named in criminal charges and civil lawsuits, but some are new to the public domain.

Archbishop John Nienstedt said in his written announcement that his administration will publicize additional “credible claims of abuse of a minor by a member of the clergy” as the archdiocese learns of them. If a credible claim is substantiated, the archdiocese will list the accused priest in a permanent disclosure section of its website, Nienstedt said.

“The disclosures made today are not intended to be final,” the archbishop wrote. “We cannot bring others to the light of Christ unless we first live out his love through our witness.”

The disclosure was ordered Monday in St. Paul by Judge John B. Van de North Jr. All but one of the priests named Thursday were originally identified in a church document created in 2004 listing 33 priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse over several decades. The archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona have fought St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson’s attempts to make the names public for the last five years, winning court protection of the list in 2009.

“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. “We applaud each and every courageous survivor who has broken the silence and fought for this day.”

Before the noon mass at Church of the Assumption in downtown St. Paul, several people expressed concern and sadness about the clergy abuse scandal.

“It’s a sad time for us,” said Barbara Davis, 83, of West St. Paul; “It’s just a very small group of men who have done these things. They never should have gotten through the seminary and the priesthood.”

Jim Allie, 53, West St. Paul, said he never had any problems when he was an altar boy. “I guess I don’t know what to think of it,” he said. “But if this is a way to get people healed and move forward, then I think it’s good.”

Shirley Polejewski, in her 70s, of St. Paul, said the scandal “hasn’t affected my faith, not at all. But I have a problem sweeping it under the rug. All I can do is pray for those affected and for the hierarchy.”

Last month, amid a new wave of allegations of clergy sexual misconduct and a coverup by church officials, Nienstedt announced that he would release the names of some offenders if the court approved.

Van de North wrote in his ruling earlier this week that circumstances underlying the original protective order have changed substantially. He cited well-publicized criminal investigations and convictions regarding priests, including the 2013 conviction of the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, who is serving prison time for the recent sexual abuse of two young boys. Wehmeyer was listed in Thursday’s disclosure even though he was not on the original list of 33 priests.

Thursday’s list from Nienstedt includes the names of 30 priests “with credible claims against them” and an additional four priests with “unsubstantiated claims.” One of the priests with an unsubstantiated claim, now ex-priest Eugene Corica, was accused of sexual relationships with adult women, not children, the archdiocese said. He served at six churches in the metro area, including as pastor at Holy Family in St. Louis Park and as pastor at St. Bridget in Minneapolis. The archdiocese said it has not been able to determine why another priest, the Rev. Roger Vaughn of the Crosier Order in Onamia, was included on the 2004 list.

Thursday’s disclosure does not include names of priests accused since 2004, with the exception of Wehmeyer, and 13 from the Diocese of Winona. The judge set Dec. 17 as the deadline for releasing the 2004 lists and Jan. 6, 2014, as the deadline for naming priests accused since 2004. The list includes several priests from orders outside the Twin Cities, including St. John’s Abbey, who served in the archdiocese.

Nienstedt once again apologized for the decades-long scandal of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the local 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. I must say once again to all victims of this abuse: I am so sorry for the pain you have endured,” the archbishop wrote.

The issue of child sexual abuse and other misconduct by local priests erupted this year when Nienstedt’s top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, went to the Ramsey County attorney’s office with allegations against the archdiocese relating to child endangerment in the Wehmeyer case and alleged child pornography that was found on another priest’s computer.

Haselberger said Oct. 5 that she resigned her position after asking Nienstedt to “take his responsibilities toward the protection of the young and the vulnerable seriously.” She said she had not been successful in convincing the administration to “take the necessary steps to address these issues.”

The newly published list includes the names of several priests who were placed in new parishes without warning to families about the alleged or confirmed sexual misconduct. They include the Rev. Thomas Adamson, the Rev. Lee Krautkremer, the Rev. Jerome Kern, the Rev. John Brown, the Rev. Gil Gustafson, the Rev. Gilbert DeSutter, the Rev. Clarence Vavra, the Rev. Robert Kapoun, the Rev. John McGrath, the Rev. Robert Thurner and the Rev. Thomas Stitts, according to past news stories and lawsuits.

Eleven of the 34 priests named Thursday are dead and another named cleric, Father Ronan Liles, is thought to be dead, the archdiocese reported. All 34 were removed from ministry, including two as recently as 2012 — Wehmeyer and the Rev. Paul Palmitessa. Palmitessa, 82, served at Most Holy Redeemer in Maplewood, St. Paul’s in Zumbrota and the Cathedral of St. Paul before moving to the San Diego Diocese in 1982, the archdiocese reported.

Palmitessa is one of a handful of priests on the list whose names were not previously in public circulation as being accused of child sexual abuse. The archdiocese reported that Palmitessa retired in 1998 but served in limited ministry until 2012 in the San Diego area. Palmitessa, now living in Santee, Calif., did not immediately return a phone call asking about the accusations against him.

The archdiocese did not describe the allegations against the 30 priests listed as credibly accused of child sexual abuse.