Law enforcement authorities on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota have opened an investigation into alleged sexual abuse of children by a Minnesota priest.
Archbishop John Nienstedt said on Friday that the Twin Cities archdiocese would release names of priests who have sexually abused children. A day and half later, church officials added caveats.
The list will be limited to living priests who still reside in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and who have been determined by the archdiocese to be guilty of abuse. Archbishop John Nienstedt did not say how many names would be released.
A retired priest who admitted to sexually abusing several young boys and a teenager on a South Dakota American Indian reservation now lives less than a block from a school in New Prague, Minn. Three archbishops and other leaders of the Twin Cities archdiocese kept Clarence Vavra's past a secret, moving him 17 times during his 38-year career. Today, Archbishop John Nienstedt acknowledges that "serious errors were made by the archdiocese in dealing with him," and pledges to disclose the names of other priests who have abused children.
In separate statements posted to its website late Sunday, the archdiocese said the priests volunteered to take leaves of absence. The archdiocese did not explain why both priests reached this decision at the same time.
Earlier this week, a woman who said the the Rev. Robert Thurner sexually abused her as a child filed a lawsuit against the priest and the archdiocese. In 1991, Thurner retired and confessed to sexual contact with at least three boys as part of a lawsuit filed by one of the victims. Another victim sued in 1993.
The woman said she was sexually abused by the Rev. Robert Thurner at St. Joseph Catholic Church in West St. Paul when she was seven to eight years old.
"This is not some small matter. This is a big deal. It's the first time, I must say, in 69 years that I'm embarrassed to be Catholic," the Rev. Stephen O'Gara, pastor of the Church of the Assumption, said in a Sunday homily.
A task force created to address the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Twin Cities' Catholic Church will only have access to information provided by the Rev. Reginald Whitt, the church official appointed to oversee it, according to a letter he wrote to Twin Cities clergy last week. The move appears to contradict the archdiocese's earlier assertions that the task force would remain independent.
Archbishop John Nienstedt responds for the first time to reporters' questions since an MPR News investigation forced the archdiocese's response to clergy misconduct into the spotlight. "I accept responsibility for addressing the issues that have been raised," he said.
The retired Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Harry Flynn, has resigned as chairman of the University of St. Thomas Board of Trustees.
The Reverend Kevin McDonough resigned from the board on October 4. His departure came amid growing concern over McDonough's handling of clergy sexual abuse cases in the church.
Internal archdiocesan documents obtained by MPR News raise questions about what the University of St. Thomas knew about sexual abuse allegations against a professor in 2006.
In a letter to then-vicar general Kevin McDonough, parishioner Kate Ternus described her concerns about the contents of the Rev. Jon Shelley's computer. Her family received Shelley's used computer in 2004, and the archdiocese later determined it contained "borderline illegal" pornography. The letter dated Sept. 17, 2004 mentions a local Catholic high school and could indicate for the first time that Shelley's behavior may have gone beyond pornography.
The call was prompted by an ongoing criminal investigation, said Police Commander Mary Nash of the department's family and sexual violence unit. She declined to provide any details.