Man sues Crookston Diocese, religious order, claiming priest abused him at White Earth

Associated Press/November 21, 2013

By Amy Forliti

Minneapolis -- A Minnesota man who says he was abused by a priest on the White Earth Indian Reservation sued the Diocese of Crookston and the priest's religious order on Thursday, claiming they should have known the priest was a risk.

The man is identified in the lawsuit as Doe 19. He claims he was 8 or 9 years old when a priest at St. Anne's in Naytahwaush sexually abused him in 1984. The Associated Press is not naming the priest because he was never criminally charged and there is no evidence he had admitted to abuse. The priest died in 2009.

The victim's attorney, Jeff Anderson, said there's no question the abuse occurred but said it's not clear how many victims there might be. Anderson said this is the first lawsuit in Minnesota addressing the issue of sexual abuse by clergy in Indian Country.

"This is an attempt to expose the horrors of the past ... and bring some healing to those who suffered in secrecy and shame for years," Anderson said.

The lawsuit claims the priest — a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, United States Province, religious order — molested three children before going to St. Anne's, including a boy and a girl at the Tekakwitha Orphanage on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The priest was one of multiple defendants named in a 2010 lawsuit stemming from the alleged abuse of two dozen children at that orphanage.

The lawsuit claimed the Crookston Diocese and the Oblates should have known the priest was dangerous and should have warned families, but it does not elaborate about how they should have known.

The diocese said it was unaware of any allegations against the priest.

"To the best of our knowledge (the priest) was never accused of nor investigated for any allegations of misconduct during his time serving our Diocese," Monsignor David Baumgartner, the diocese's vicar general, said in a statement. "We stand with all who want the facts of this matter known and justice done."

A message left with the Oblates was not immediately returned.

Anderson's legal team said the priest was ordained in 1950 and, as a member of the religious order, he moved around frequently. He worked in Illinois, Oregon, Missouri and South Dakota during his career.

The plaintiff, who was an altar boy and participated in church youth activities on the White Earth reservation, said he chose to sue to protect other kids, and he encouraged other victims to come forward.

The lawsuit also said that in 2004, the Crookston Diocese compiled a list of five priests who had credible accusations of abuse lodged against them. The lawsuit seeks to make that list public.

The diocese said the list contains only four names, which have appeared in public court documents. It adds that all four priests are dead. Baumgartner said the priest named in this lawsuit is not on the diocese's list of credibly accused priests.

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