Is Crookston Diocese Responsible for Pedophile Priest?
By Matt Henson
March 9, 2016
Should the Catholic Diocese of Crookston be forced to pay up?
A judge is deciding whether or not the diocese is financially responsible for a pedophile priest in one of its parishes.
The Diocese of Crookston does not deny it.
"The Diocese of Crookston deeply regrets that anyone was harmed at the hands of any clergy member,” commented said Susan Gaertner the lawyer for the diocese
That includes Father Vincent Fitzgerald who died in 2009. Doe 19 claims he was sexually abused by the priest as a ten year old while he was an altar boy at St. Anne's in Naytahwaush back in the mid-1980s.
"The Diocese of Crookston knew for decades that there were priests abusing kids in this diocese, but continued to keep that from the public and keep those secrets,” said Doe 19’s lawyer Mike Finnegan.
The abuse actually involved multiple victims and dates back to the 60s, but the diocese argues they were not aware of it until the 90s.
“Father Fitzgerald was employed by the Oblates of Mary the Immaculate, he was their responsibility,” explained Gaertner.
The diocese claims there was no written history of Father Fitzgerald preying on children when he came to the region, something disputed by Doe 19's lawyer.
“The public has never seen those, and even in court today when I tried to use those the diocese stood up, objected and made a big deal about nobody in the public should see these documents,” said Finnegan.
Under the Minnesota Child Victims Act Doe 19 is seeking financial compensation from the Crookston Diocese, and the Oblates of Mary the Immaculate who assigned Fitzgerald to the parish.
"There's no amount of money that can compensate what happened to him," explained Finnegan.
However, the diocese argues they should be excluded from the lawsuit since the oblates assigned Fitzgerald to the church, not them, and claim he was not technically employed by the diocese.
“It really comes down to under the law, if someone that doesn't work for you harms someone and you don't know or have any reason to know that it's going to happen, the law does not provide for you to be held accountable, the law doesn't provide for it and it's not fair,” commented Gaertner.
During the nearly three hour hearing in Polk County Court the lawyer for Doe 19 argued the bishop at the time had a responsibility to oversee Father Fitzgerald, regardless of who put him at St. Anne's, and the diocese should not be granted special treatment referring to their attempts to get the case tossed as an insult.
"They were responsible, the bishop is the top official and he did have control over Father Fitzgerald when this happened and the ability to supervise him," said Finnegan.
The judge is expected to take several weeks to review the arguments and make a ruling.
Another victim of Father Fitzgerald when he was at a parish in the Diocese of Duluth was recently awarded $8 million.
The jury in that case found the diocese 60 percent responsible and the oblates of Mary the Immaculate 40 percent to blame.
About 50 people have filed lawsuits under the Minnesota Child Victims Act, allowing survivors of priest sex abuse to sue.
Dioceses have not been granted immunity in any of those cases.