Prosecutor: Probe Nearly Complete
By Stephen J. Lee
Grand Forks Herald
May 5, 2002
A Fargo Roman Catholic priest who sparked a criminal investigation by admitting in February to sexual misconduct with children while he lived in Drayton, N.D., now says it never happened.
It's a dramatic but not entirely surprising development in the case of the Rev. Charles Fischer, a young and popular priest. The criminal investigation could wrap up this week.
Fischer, 40, remains hospitalized in Fargo, stripped of all priestly duties and being treated for psychological and other medical problems, according to church and law enforcement officials.
On Feb. 13, Fischer told Bishop Samuel Aquila of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with several children, including some while he was a priest in St. Edward parish in Drayton, Assumption parish in Pembina and St. Thomas in St. Thomas, N.D., from 1995 to 2000, Aquila announced Feb. 15.
Fischer immediately was removed as a theology professor at Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo and his priestly fac ulties were taken away by church officials. Law enforcement and social services officials were contacted by the di ocese.
Pembina County State's Attorney Barbara Whelan in Cavalier launched a criminal investigation that has been con ducted by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investiga tion.
The investigation is nearly complete, and Fischer's new tune, while a turn, won't stop it, Whelan said.
Fischer provided a written recantation of his confession, Whelan said Saturday. It was a total recantation.
Tuesday, Fischer gave his written recantation of his earlier admission to Bishop Aquila, spiritual leader of 100,000 Catholics in eastern North Dakota. Aquila faxed it to her Wednesday, Whelan said.
In last week s statement, Fischer explained why he earlier confessed, to sexual misconduct with children, Whelan said, but she declined to give details. Interviews with potential victims nearly are completed and by the end of this week, she expects to an nounce whether she will charge Fischer with any crime.
Unlike most cases of alleged sexual misconduct by clergy, no one - except briefly one Grand Forks parent - has come forward accusing Fischer of anything.
I m not surprised, said Monsignor Wendelyn Vetter, vicar general of the diocese, on hearing of Fischer's recanting. Because everything seems to point that it didn't happen, at least as far as I know.
Vetter, also a parish priest in Hillsboro, N.D., has been a leader for years in the diocese in handling sexual misconduct by priests and wrote the diocese s policy on it 15 years ago.
Fischer's February confes sion named children in three families in North Dakota, as well as children in of his relatives and friends in other states. Vetter said all the families were contacted by officials of the Fargo diocese, to offer help and keep everyone in formed. All of the people con tacted said they had seen or heard nothing of any miscon duct by Fischer, Vetter said.
All along, parishioners voiced strong support for Fischer and disbelief of his self-confessed misconduct.
It s been commonly held by parishioners as well as other priests in the diocese who know him that Fischer, under some sort of mental strain or illness, had concocted, or been deluded about, the sexual mis conduct.
Aquila told Fischer s former parishioners he was seriously ill, and said his admissions first came out during counsel ing sessions at Fargo medical facility.
Whelan said the investiga tion has involved interviewing the three North Dakota fami lies named by Fischer, plus a Grand Forks family - not named by Fischer - which came to investigators atten tion when the father told authorities his children may have been molested by Fischer. The father told the Herald authorities said Fischer didn t molest his children.
I just knew in the first place that he didn t do it, said Tyler Olson, 18, Drayton, said Saturday. Everyone in our community just pretty much knew he wasn t the typical kind of guy to do that kind of thing.
Early in the investigation, a BCI agent told the Herald that no corroboration of Fischer's admissions had yet been found.
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