The Polka Padre and His Troubling Past
By Chris Anderson
May 8, 2016
|Property records show this mobile home in Palmetto is owned by Robert Kapoun of Minnesota. Kapoun is a former priest in the Catholic church who was accused of sexually assaulting at least six boys from 1966-81.|
Photo by CHRIS ANDERSON
He was known as the Polka Padre, and parishioners across the state of Minnesota couldn't get enough of his accordion during church services. He was so popular he even put out an album and had his own billboard.
But there was more to Father Robert Kapoun than most people knew, a much darker side, a side that if you read through the allegations in hundreds of pages of court documents is abhorrent.
By 1995, at least six men claimed Kapoun sexually assaulted them between 1966 and '81 when they were boys. Kapoun admitted to three and reportedly there was a “substantial'' settlement in at least one of the cases in 1990.
Furthermore, the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul was aware of the abuse allegations as early as 1973, and yet Kapoun remained a priest until he was allowed to retire in 1996, a year after a jury awarded a former altar boy $1 million in what was the biggest trial involving the clergy in state history.
Now, if you look on the website of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Palmetto an interesting name appears under the title “visiting priests who we shall always cherish.'' It's Kapoun's. His name shows up in very small type and if “Polka Padre” wasn't in parentheses it would never even catch your eye.
When Kapoun visited Holy Cross, how many times he visited, in what capacity, and what he did to receive such a gracious acknowledgement is not known. Holy Cross says he is retired and was never assigned there as a priest.
OK, so a priest with a troubled past visited a church in Palmetto at some point. Big deal, right? Now, check the Manatee County Property Appraiser's site and you'll find something else. Kapoun, 76, bought a mobile home in Palmetto across the street from the church in 2002 for $1 from his father.
He reportedly spends his summers at a $500,000 lakefront home in Cold Spring, Minn., where some of the alleged assaults took place, and some of his winters in Palmetto, where he is reportedly unsupervised and free to enjoy Florida just like any other retiree.
That's in contrast to cities like Philadelphia, where abusive priests live in a residential home, are monitored by video cameras and must tell ex-probation officers their plans for the day.
In 2002, Kapoun was permanently removed from the Catholic church, and as part of the church's rules he can't serve as a pastor, call himself a priest or be anywhere near children. The mobile home park in Palmetto is 55 and over.
How much time he spends in Palmetto is not known. On Friday his home appeared to be vacated for the summer and since his neighbors did not answer their doors it is hard to know if they are aware that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which recently filed for bankruptcy, has Kapoun on its list of priests with credible claims of sexual abuse against them by a minor.
There's more: An investigation by Minnesota Public Radio a few years ago found that the archdiocese allowed Kapoun to retire early in 1996, but in addition to the monthly pension of $1,510.50 he receives, he gets an additional $957.50 per month as “medical retirement.'' That means Kapoun, with his troubling past, receives more than a retired priest with an unblemished career.
For its story, MPR tracked down Kapoun at his lake house in Minnesota. He was cutting his grass, but stepped down to talk.
When asked if he had ever sexually assaulted a minor, the Polka Padre responded in Sandusky-like fashion: “It's a difficult thing to explain, you know. It's been exaggerated.''