Seeks Documets from Duluth Diocese on Priest Abuse Charges
By Tom Olsen
Duluth News Tribune
For the third time in eight months, the Catholic
Diocese of Duluth is the subject of a lawsuit seeking the public
release of thousands of documents detailing the history of
priest sex abuse cases in Northeastern Minnesota.
The suit, filed Wednesday in State District Court in
Ramsey County by an alleged abuse victim, makes the same demand
for the Diocese of New Ulm — the only diocese in the state that
has not yet released a list of its priests who have been
“credibly accused” of abuse.
The alleged victim, identified in court documents only
as “Doe 30,” claims that he was abused by Father James Vincent
Fitzgerald at St. Catherine’s Church in Squaw Lake as a
13-year-old in 1976. Attorneys for the man and other victims
claim that the diocese likely has thousands of documents
detailing the church’s handling of abuse cases, including
The diocese, however, said on Wednesday that no abuse
allegations were ever brought against Fitzgerald during his 26
years working at six Northland parishes.
“We have no record of any allegations being made
against Father Fitzgerald during this time and we were unaware
of any allegations against him until late 2013 when we received
word from the Diocese of Crookston that a lawsuit naming Father
Fitzgerald had been filed,” Vicar General James Bissonette said
in a statement.
“On December 12th, Bishop Paul Sirba sent a letter to
the parishioners, priests and deacons of the parishes where
Father Fitzgerald served to let them know of the lawsuit and to
ask anyone who may have been a victim of Father Fitzgerald to
come forward. We also included Father Fitzgerald in the list of
priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor that we
voluntarily released last December.”
The alleged victim is represented by attorney Mike
Finnegan of St. Paul-based Jeff Anderson and Associates, a firm
that specializes in sex abuse cases. Speaking at a Wednesday
news conference in Duluth, Finnegan said Fitzgerald left a
“sordid” history of abuse across the Midwest.
“We believe that Vincent Fitzgerald could be one of
the worst perpetrators in the state of Minnesota,” Finnegan
said. “We believe that this man had access to kids for years and
years and years, and his higher-ups knew that he abused kids or
should have known that he abused kids, and kept moving him
around from parish to parish, where he abused more kids.”
Fitzgerald, who died in 2009, worked at six parishes
within the Diocese of Duluth from 1957 to 1983: St. Michaels in
Northome, Our Lady of the Snows in Bigfork, St. Theresa in
Effie, Holy Cross in Orr, Immaculate Conception in Nett Lake and
St. Catherine in Squaw Lake.
Fitzgerald’s name appeared on lists of credibly
accused priests released recently by the dioceses of Duluth and
Crookston, and Finnegan said he has also been accused of abusing
children on three reservations in Minnesota and South Dakota.
The suit filed Wednesday alleges that Fitzgerald
sexually abused Doe 30, when he brought the boy on a two-week
trip to Squaw Lake.
In 1976, Fitzgerald spent 12 weeks at a pastoral
education program in Willmar, Minn., and worked at a parish in
nearby Lake Lillian, Finnegan said. There, Fitzgerald asked for
a boy to accompany him back to Squaw Lake to serve as a
temporary altar boy. The alleged victim, coming from a devout
Catholic family, volunteered.
“He was up there for two weeks, trapped alone with
this priest, and was abused repeatedly,” Finnegan said.
Finnegan said the bishops at the time tried to cover
up sex abuse allegations against Fitzgerald by moving him to
other parishes. While Fitzgerald was working in the Duluth
diocese when Doe 30 was allegedly abused, Finnegan said New Ulm
is also included in the suit because there is evidence to
suggest that officials there also had knowledge of his abuse.
The suit also names the Missionary Oblates of Mary
Immaculate, the religious order to which Fitzgerald belonged.
Two other suits, filed in June and December 2013, are
also seeking the release of Diocese of Duluth sex abuse
documents. The diocese voluntarily released a list of its
credibly accused priests on Dec. 31, but attorneys for the
alleged victims have argued that the diocese should be ordered
to turn over its complete files on each of the priests.
The diocese has argued that the release of the
priests’ names should bring closure to victims and has sought to
keep documents confidential. Sixth Judicial District Judge David
Johnson is considering a motion to dismiss the most significant
portions of the suits, and is expected to issue a ruling soon.
In its statement Wednesday, the diocese encouraged
abuse victims to continue to report their experiences to the
“It is our most profound hope and the daily subject of
our prayers that all those who suffered abuse by a member of our
clergy find peace and healing through the love of Christ and
that they come forward to civil authorities and to the church’s
diocesan assistance coordinators,” Bissonette said.
All three suits have been brought under the Minnesota
Child Victims Act, which was passed by the Legislature and
signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton last May. The legislation
opened a three-year window for past victims of childhood sexual
abuse to file claims that would otherwise by barred by the
statute of limitations.