Willmar Women Speak out As New Ulm Diocese Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse Are Named
By Shelby Lindrud
West Central Tribune
March 29, 2016
The names of 16 former priests of the New Ulm Diocese, who have been identified as being credibly accused of sexually abusing minors, were released Tuesday by the diocese and the law firm of Jeff Anderson & Associates. The New Ulm Diocese was the last diocese in the state of Minnesota to release the names of priests accused of sexual abuse.
“We recognize the knowledge and release of the names helps the victims and survivors in the healing process,” said Monsignor Douglas Grams in an interview with the Tribune. Grams is the vicar general of the New Ulm Diocese, and was speaking on behalf of Bishop John LeVoir and the diocese.
“Bishop LeVoir and I, on behalf of the church, apologize to all the victims and survivors of abuse by priests,” Grams said.
The men on the list are Cletus Altermatt, Dennis Becker, Gordon Buckley, Robert Clark, J. Vincent Fitzgerald, John Gleason, Joseph Heitzer, Rudolph Henrich, Harry Majerus, Francis Markey, William Marks, John Murphy, David Roney, Douglas Schleisman, Michael Skoblik and Charles Stark.
All but three of the priests on the list are deceased, according to the diocese, and none of those living continue in ministry. Becker was removed from ministry in 2015, Clark was removed in 2002 and Schleisman was laicized in 1994.
“They would no longer function as a priest in a parish,” Grams said.
Only one on the list is a new name. All the others have been named in previous media reports. Fitzgerald, Heitzer, Henrick and Majerus were not credibly accused in the New Ulm Diocese, but had been credibly accused in other dioceses and had been assigned at some point to churches in the New Ulm Diocese.
The list is the product of months of work between the diocese and Anderson’s firm to identify the priests who have been credibly accused and release the names to the public. Grams said credible accusations were those which “can not be rule out based on fact.”
Anderson released the names during a news conference Tuesday. He was joined by abuse survivors Kim Schmit and Lori Stoltz, both of Willmar and both victims of deceased Diocese of New Ulm priest David Roney. Anderson said his firm is working on or has worked on over 30 abuse claims against Roney, who died in 2003.
The two women were abused as young girls in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Roney and came forward as adults, at first as Jane Does. However, both decided to come forward publicly in 2013.
Video from a September 2013 news conference is posted on Anderson’s website.
In that news conference with Anderson, the two women shared what happened to them. Schmit said she was abused once by Roney and after it took place, she immediately told her mother.
“I told her Father Roney approached me and made me touch something,” Schmit said.
“It really angers me that there were so many people that covered up for this. It is time everybody knows about this,” Schmit’s mother Jane Hazen said in 2013.
Schmit was abused at the age of 7. As teenagers she and Stoltz became friends, and Stoltz told Schmit what Father Roney had done to her between the ages of 11 and 13. Both Schmit and Stoltz are the same age.
“He continued to offend after treatment and after reports,” Anderson said in 2013.
At Tuesday’s news conference, the two women said they decided to go public because they hoped to help others.
“I encourage anybody else out there, that is holding back, to please come forward. It does bring peace and heal your soul,” Schmit said.
“I can help educate,” Stoltz said, who also said she hopes past classmates of hers will recognize her and come forward if they too were abused.
Anderson said it is people like Schmit and Stoltz who make justice possible.
“It is because of the courage of these survivors and others that allowed this to now be made known,” Anderson said.
Time is running out for priest abuse victims to share their stories. The Minnesota Child Victims Act expires in 57 days, on May 25, and with it the opportunity for past claims to be filed against dioceses or institutions.
“There is a chance for survivors to come forward. To take their power back, to empower themselves and protect children of the future,” Anderson said.
Stoltz and Schmit both said coming forward helped them heal from the abuse.
“I feel lighter. I feel happier,” Stoltz said.
Grams encourages all those who were abused by priests to report the abuse immediately to police. He also said the New Ulm Diocese is available to help the victims heal from the abuse they suffered.
“We applaud the courage of the survivors for coming forward and telling their stories,” Grams said.