By Stephen J. Lee
Grand Forks Herald
May 11, 2002
This is how the Fischer case unfolded, according to Pembina County State's Attorney Barbara Whelan.
1994: The Rev. Charles Fischer Jr., 34, a Wisconsin native, comes to Fargo diocese after several years in Rome, Italy, where he had earned a doctorate, was ordained a priest and served a parish.
1995-2000: He lives in Drayton, N.D., serving parishes there and in St. Thomas and Pembina, N.D.
June 2000: He is reassigned to teach theology at Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo, a "minor" seminary with students in high school and college.
Feb. 10, 2002: Fischer attempts suicide and is hospitalized in Fargo.
Feb. 13: Fischer attempts suicide again while hospitalized. That night, he meets with Bishop Samuel Aquila and Fischer's psychiatrist and tells them he had engaged in sexual misconduct with children, but gave no details.
Feb. 14: At Aquila's request, Fischer hands in letter of resignation as professor with a list, in his own handwriting, naming the families of the children he says he molested, including four families in North Dakota while he lived in Drayton.
Feb. 15: Aquila publicly announces Fischer's admissions and that he has been stripped of all "priestly faculties," and that law enforcement and social services had been contacted. A criminal investigation ensues.
Feb. 16-17: Aquila visits the three parishes - St. Thomas in St. Thomas, St. Edwards in Drayton and Assumption in Pembina - to speak about Fischer, offer apologies and prayers and help to any victims. He reiterates that he will not tolerate sexual misconduct by diocesan employees. Parishioners tell the Herald that Fischer was a well-liked priest and say they can't believe reports of his admissions; several mention Fischer's health problems as perhaps linked to his admissions.
March-April: Priests and parishioners and a BCI agent tell Herald there has been no evidence, and no victims are surfacing to corroborate Fischer's admissions of sexual misconduct.
April 19: BCI agents meet with Aquila and other church officials, who tell the agents Fischer had a mental breakdown several years ago in Rome and admitted to sexually molesting seminarians. An investigation by church and law enforcement officials in Rome found no other evidence of the abuse. Fischer recanted his admission in the early 1990s.
April 23: Fischer writes Aquila a letter, saying "I am withdrawing and denying all written and spoken admissions I have made regarding the abuse of any and all children. I have never abused a child and have no inclination to do so." He blamed his earlier admission on "some adjustment made to my anti-psychotic medication which I have been on since the summer of 1993," and falling into "an old pattern of emotional breakdown."
April 30: Aquila receives Fischer's April 23 letter.
May 1: Aquila gives Fischer's letter to the BCI. The bishop tells the agents Fischer is doing better with adjustment to his medication and that Fischer personally has contacted all the families "to let them know about the psychotic episode, and has apologized to them for his behaviors."
May 4: Pembina County State's Attorney Barbara Whelan tells Herald about Fischer's recanting his admission. Former parishioners, when told, say they never believed the stories of his misconduct.
May 10: Whelan announces the investigation is complete, no evidence was found of sexual abuse by Fischer, and the file is closed. She praises church officials' cooperation with the investigation.
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