Priest's Abuse in St. Paul Covered up by Archdiocese, Suit Claims
By Emily Gurnon
November 7, 2013
[lawsuit and documents]
A priest who worked in St. Paul and Forest Lake parishes was sued Thursday by a man who alleges the priest sexually abused him after archdiocese officials covered up earlier reports of abuse.
The Rev. Jerome Kern, now 72, was serving as a priest at Our Lady of Grace in Edina when he "engaged in unpermitted sexual contact" for several years in the 1970s with the plaintiff, identified as Doe 26, the suit claims. The man, now in his 50s, was 12 to 16 years old at the time, he said.
Kern had come from an assignment at the Church of St. Mark in St. Paul -- where reports of at least two abused children came to the archdiocese, said the suit, filed in Ramsey County District Court.
"Upon receiving complaints about Kern's involvement with the two children, the archdiocese transferred Kern to Our Lady of Grace" in Edina, the lawsuit says.
Church officials not only failed to protect the boy, but they continually placed Kern in positions where he had access to children whose parents were unaware of his history, said the plaintiff's attorney, Jeff Anderson.
Thursday's lawsuit comes after a state law passed in May temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for civil suits involving child sex abuse.
Kern did not return a message left at a number listed for him. He lives in St. Paul.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis moved Kern in 1976 to Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Minnetonka, said the suit.
While Kern was there, he abused another boy, Al Michaud. Michaud, who now lives in Eden Prairie, sued in 1993. The following year, officials moved Kern a final time, to St. Peter's Catholic Church in Forest Lake.
Michaud spoke at a Thursday news conference at Anderson's St. Paul office.
He said one term of his settlement with the archdiocese was a promise that they would not move him to another parish or allow him access to children.
"Jerry Kern is a predator," Michaud said. "I don't want another kid hurt. I don't want anybody else abused because somebody was not doing their jobs."
Another man also spoke, saying he was a victim of Kern's while the priest was at St. Mark's.
"In the summer of 1969, (another youth) and I were taken to a location with Father Kern," where he molested them, Jamie Heutmaker said.
Heutmaker, 58, of Prior Lake said he and the other boy reported it to their parents, who in turn went to the parish, to police and eventually to the Rev. Kevin McDonough at the archdiocese. They received a letter from Kern, but "other than that, nothing happened," Heutmaker said.
Kern was never charged with a crime.
Doe 26 did not attend the news conference.
The archdiocese issued a statement Thursday that said it would "investigate and respond" to the allegations in the lawsuit.
"Today's press conference concerns a matter that is alleged to have occurred more than three decades ago," the statement said. "Jerome Kern was removed from ministry in 2002 and has been compliant with a monitoring program."
Eliminating abuse "is the highest priority for the Archdiocese," it said.
In response to reports since September regarding lack of action by the archdiocese to priest misconduct, the archdiocese has formed a lay task force to review policies and procedures. Its report will be made public when it is final, the statement said.
Archbishop John Nienstedt has "ordered a review of clergy files by an outside firm to ensure that we have not overlooked any inappropriate behavior from the past," the statement said.
Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522. Follow her at twitter.com/emilygurnon.
1966: Jerome Kern ordained.
1966-69: Kern serves at St. Mark's Catholic Church in St. Paul. Accused of sexually abusing three boys. Parents of two report to archdiocese in 1969. Archdiocese reassigns Kern.
1969-76: Kern serves at Our Lady of Grace in Edina, where he allegedly abuses five children, including Doe 26, who sues Thursday.
1976-94: Kern is moved to Immaculate Heart of Mary in Minnetonka. Al Michaud later accused him of molesting him in 1977 when he was 15. Michaud sued in 1993.
1994-95: Michaud's lawsuit is settled and archdiocese promises Kern will never be in another parish or work around children, Michaud says.
1996-02: Archdiocese transfers Kern to St. Peter's Catholic Church in Forest Lake, which included a grade school.