New Prague parish faces priest abuse lawsuit

By Leah Buletti
Mankato Free Press
May 24, 2016

NEW PRAGUE — A New Prague parish is being sued by a victim who alleges he was sexually abused by a priest in the 1960s.

Minneapolis attorney Patrick Noaker filed a civil complaint on behalf of the victim on Monday in Le Sueur County District Court. It alleges the victim was sexually abused when he was 12 by the Rev. Louis Heitzer in 1965 at St. Scholastica Parish in Heidelberg.

When the victim was 12, he lost his father in a car wreck and Heitzer accompanied police to his home with the news, Noaker said.

"Heitzer used that connection with the family to isolate this kid and ultimately sexually abuse him," Noaker said. "It shows at what level the trust in their parish priest was violated."

Heitzer, who is now deceased, was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1942 and was employed by the parish from 1958 to 1965.

At the time, St. Scholastica Parish was part of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. In 2011, St. Scholastica merged into the Church of St. Wenceslaus of New Prague.

In 2002, a top church official with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis described Heitzer, who also worked in parishes in Gaylord and Sleepy Eye, as one of the "most abusive" to work in the archdiocese.

"As I have come to know more about what Louis Heitzer did, I believe he was perhaps the most abusive priest to ever be a part of this archdiocese," former Vicar Gen. Kevin McDonough wrote in a letter to a woman concerned about sexual abuse her brother and other boys experienced while Heitzer was working in Franklin from 1950-54. "I now believe he abused boys every place he went."

The complaint says before the abuse occurred, the parish had knowledge of Heitzer's "sexual misconduct, impulses and behavior" but failed to act on that knowledge.

"(The parish) also breached its duties to (the victim) by failing to report Heitzer's abuse of children to the police and law enforcement," the complaint said. "(The parish) further breached its duties by hiding a pedophile and engaging in a coverup of abuse perpetrated by Heitzer."

At least three archbishops knew of Heitzer’s inappropriate behavior with children and numerous parents sent letters to church officials detailing accounts of sexual abuse by Heitzer, according to Jeff Anderson & Associates, a St. Paul law firm that released Heitzer's priest file in 2014.

The complaint filed by Noaker seeks a jury trial as well as more than $50,000. The lawsuit was brought under the Minnesota Child Victims Act, which allows victims to come forward without having to worry about the statute of limitations. The deadline for filing a claim is Wednesday.

Another priest in the same parish, the Rev. Kenneth Gansmann, who was the pastor of St. John the Baptist in Union Hill and died in 1974, has been accused of sexually abusing multiple boys, according to Anderson's firm.

The Rev. Kevin Clinton, pastor of the Church of St. Wenceslaus, said Tuesday the church has been proactive about letting members of the church community know about the accusations.

"Sexual abuse in our culture when it happens is an extremely serious matter that traumatizes people and it is particularly serious when the violator is someone connected with the clergy," he said.

Clinton said he hopes the disclosures serve as a "wakeup call in our culture" that it's a fallacy to believe such traumas will go away if they aren't discussed.

"We have to be extremely proactive and break the secrecy," he said.

Noaker said the Minnesota Child Victims Act has been crucial to exposing institutional shortcomings that allowed abuse to fester.

"It gave us a better understanding of how these child abusers manipulate the institutional setting to get access to children," he said. "Once we know more, the institutions themselves can implement better procedures, better checks and balances to make sure they protect kids better."



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