St. Paul Priest's Suspected Child Porn Never Reported to Police
By Emily Gurnon
November 13, 2014
When two employees at St. Mary's church in downtown St. Paul found what they believed was child pornography in the Rev. Donald J. Dummer's living quarters in 1997, they brought the material to an archdiocese official.
Over the next five years, the circle of church leaders made aware of the material grew. It included then-Vicar General Kevin McDonough, then-Archbishop Harry Flynn and the Rev. Joseph Hitpas, Dummer's superior in the local office of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the order to which he belonged.
It even reached Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C. -- the Vatican's ambassador to the United States.
But the potentially criminal material never was turned over to law enforcement. Instead, Hitpas told Flynn in 2002, "I will dispose of the tapes."
Details of the events involving the former Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis priest were released Thursday by attorney Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, who obtained the material through a lawsuit.
A message left for Dummer, now 77 and living in an oblates residence in Tewksbury, Mass., was returned by the residence's administrator, David Arthur, who referred a reporter to the oblates headquarters in Washington, D.C. Messages left there were not immediately returned.
Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the archdiocese said in a written statement Thursday that Dummer's file was turned over to St. Paul police investigators in November 2013.
"Dummer is accused of possessing child pornography while he was living within the archdiocese," Cozzens wrote. "Today, we would handle such allegations differently."
Church officials and Anderson identified Dummer last month as being among priests in the Twin Cities archdiocese with substantiated claims of child sexual abuse.
Cozzens said Thursday that a substantiated claim "is one for which sufficient evidence exists to establish reasonable grounds to believe that the alleged abuse occurred. It is not a presumption of guilt."
Possession of child pornography is considered a form of child sexual abuse for purposes of inclusion on the archdiocese's list.
Ordained in 1964, Dummer served at Church of the Assumption in Richfield from 1975 to the 1980s. He then went to the Diocese of Crookston, where he worked in Blackduck in Beltrami County; mission parishes in Pennington, Kelliher, Northome and Shooks; and Callaway in Becker County, a diocese official said. In 1996, he returned to the Twin Cities and lived at St. Mary's Catholic Church in St. Paul.
It was there that the suspected pornography was discovered.
One of the church employees found a VHS tape of "boys 10-12 years of age playing basketball -- nude," he said. Early the next year, the employee found more videos, including one depicting homosexual sex between teenagers about 18 or 19 years old, the man estimated.
In August 1997, months after archdiocese officials were first made aware of the possible child pornography, Dummer became chaplain at St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center, now Regions Hospital.
One of the employees who found the material brought it to the Rev. Kevin McDonough, then vicar general of the archdiocese.
Frustrated with the lack of a response, the employee in 2002 wrote a letter "to whom it may concern." It was not clear who received the letter, but a group of concerned parents called Catholic Parents OnLine then wrote to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C., and included the man's letter.
The group also included a packet of photos the man had collected from Dummer's quarters and "three (3) videos of a questionable nature," the nuncio said.
The nuncio, Montalvo, wrote to Flynn on Feb. 4, 2002, about what he had received. The fact that the parents' group "has its own website" meant that "the potential for public scandal and the dissemination of these troubling allegations are evident."
Flynn replied March 6, 2002, saying he would meet soon with Dummer and Hitpas, Dummer's local superior with the oblates.
Hitpas had told Flynn over the phone that there had been "ongoing agitation" between the employee and Dummer, Flynn wrote. The staff member "has had emotional problems and Father Dummer doesn't seem to have the sensitivity to recognize that but rather does things to aggravate him and these are usually minor liturgical violations," the archbishop wrote.
Hitpas also wrote a letter to Flynn. In the Feb. 13, 2002, document, he said Dummer was embarrassed and apologetic, but "adamantly denies ever possessing any kind of child pornography."
"He claims he has no other tapes. ... I pointed out to him that any such material was inappropriate, and that he should check carefully and get rid of anything else that might be in his possession," Hitpas wrote.
After meeting with Dummer and Hitpas, Flynn told the apostolic nuncio in an April 3, 2002, letter that Dummer would be moved out of St. Mary's and into the oblates' residence in St. Paul, where he would "experience more supervision."
Flynn wrote that "as far as I am concerned I think we can bring this matter to a closure. I do not believe that this matter needs any further attention except the ongoing supervision of Father Dummer."
Dummer was fired from his chaplain job in 2006. The director of chaplaincy services at Regions wrote at the time that Dummer "can be rude and insensitive, and that his ministry lacks the appropriate pastoral sensitivity."
Dummer wrote in an email to then-Archbishop Flynn, "I feel that I didn't do anything wrong," referring to his chaplaincy.
The Dummer case bears some similarity to that of the Rev. Jonathan Shelley, formerly of St. Jude of the Lake church in Mahtomedi and St. John the Baptist in Hugo.
In September 2004, a parishioner whose family once owned the Mahtomedi house where Shelley lived retrieved a computer that had belonged to Shelley and was no longer wanted.
The parishioner booted it up and found what he believed to be pornography.
He called the archdiocese and turned over the hard drive. McDonough, then vicar general, assured him the matter would be fully investigated. McDonough contacted a private investigator but did not report the matter to police.
St. Paul police examined the case last year after archdiocese whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger contacted the Ramsey County attorney's office about it.
Police and investigators with Washington County determined the material was adult pornography and did not depict images of minors.
Haselberger, however, previously told law enforcement that she had seen the report by the private investigator and other documents related to the computer. The documents said the pornographic images included what appeared to be a pre-pubescent boy performing oral sex on another male, according to a police report. And there was evidence of search terms such as "naked boy pics," "hard core teen boys" and "helpless teen boys," the police report said, citing Haselberger.
Shelley was not charged with a crime. He has been on leave since March 2013.