Investigation into Priest Misconduct Continues

Associated Press State & Local Wire
March 12, 2002

Investigators must find evidence to confirm a Roman Catholic priest's admission of sexual misconduct before criminal charges can be considered, Pembina County's prosecutor says.

"You can't just go forward on someone's admission they committed a crime," State's Attorney Barbara Whelan said Tuesday. "There has to be some other corroborating evidence a crime was committed."

The Rev. Charles Fischer told Bishop Samuel Aquila on Feb. 13 that he had molested children. Aquila stripped Fischer of his powers as a priest and reported his revelation to police and the public.

Aquila has said Fischer admitted his behavior during treatment for a serious illness.

Whelan said agents from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation are interviewing three families in Pembina County, where Fischer served as pastor of Drayton's St. Edward's Church, and a fourth family in Grand Forks.

She said the search for corroborating evidence is complicated by the fact that none of the alleged victims came forward on their own, but were sought out because of what the Fischer told the bishop.

Whelan would not say whether Fischer has repeated his admissions to law enforcement officers. She has not set a deadline to decide whether charges will be filed.

Fischer was assigned to St. Edward's from 1995 to 2000, when he joined Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo as a theology teacher. He resigned the seminary post Feb. 14.

Two other eastern North Dakota priests have been investigated for sexual misconduct since 1998.

The Rev. Abraham Anthony was charged in April 2000 in Stutsman County with gross sexual imposition, sexual assault and disorderly conduct for allegedly having sexual contact with two boys and harassing a third.

Police believe the priest, who also is known as Anthony Abraham, returned to his native India before he could be questioned. He had served as a visiting pastor at St. James Catholic Church in Jamestown.

The Rev. Fernando Sayasaya is suspected of sexual misconduct involving boys while serving as an associate pastor at Blessed Sacrament Church in West Fargo. The diocese said Sayasaya was relieved of his duties as a priest when the allegations surfaced.

West Fargo police think Sayasaya is in the Philippines. He has not been charged.

The Rev. Gregory Schlesselmann, vicar general of the diocese, said the revelations of misconduct have been painful for many in the diocese.

But he said some people have been encouraged by Aquila's decision to talk openly about the allegations.

"I think the healing has begun," Schlesselmann said.


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