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  Parishes Divided over Departure
The Rev. Rick Boyd's Sudden Exit Leaves Many with Unanswered Questions

By Stephen J. Lee
Grand Forks Herald
July 19, 2003

Their priest gone suddenly this week, Catholics in Bagley and Fosston, Minn., wonder now about the future of their parishes. And there is disagreement about the recent past.

The Rev. Rick Boyd resigned Thursday, surprising many; he said his credibility in the two parishes was too damaged by recent "gossip" related to his 1984 conviction for possessing child pornography.

On Sunday, the Rev. Gerald Noesen, a retired priest from Mentor, Minn., will lead services in St. Mary's in Fosston and St. Joseph's in Bagley, said Monsignor Roger Grundhaus, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Crookston. Noesen will read a statement by Boyd explaining his resignation, Grundhaus said.

Several parishioners increasingly have raised concerns about Boyd with Bishop Victor Balke and Grundhaus.

Boyd pleaded guilty in 1984 in a Polk County courtroom to possession of child pornography at his residence at Sacred Heart parish in East Grand Forks; he served a two-year probation. He also took part in six months of treatment at a Catholic-run center in Massachusetts, Boyd said. The past 16 years he has served in parishes in the Crookston diocese - Middle River, Park Rapids and the past two years in Fosston and Bagley.

Cathy Godtland of Fosston said she and several others have told Balke and Grundhaus they think Boyd may be using pornography via the Internet on his computers and in magazines. They have no hard evidence, only a variety of rumors and stories, they admit.

But in the past year, Boyd's gift of a laptop computer to a Fosston teen and his requiring a Bagley teen to work several hours painting in the priest's residence as a penalty for missing confirmation class seemed inappropriate, Godtland and others said.

"We weren't making any accusations," said Tim Arneson, a member of St. Joseph's in Bagley. "We were voicing concerns. And we didn't have the resources to check on those concerns, which is why we asked the diocese to do that."

Confirmation class

But diocesan officials - Balke and Grundhaus - seemed to downplay their concerns and didn't really investigate anything, Arneson said.

Grundhaus said the diocese has never heard any evidence that Boyd has victimized anyone.

Lori Balstad directed the religious education of young people at St. Mary's in Fosston for the first year Father Boyd was pastor there. Although she didn't know about Boyd's 1984 conviction until this week, Balstad said, she was confident there had never been any problem of the parish's youth being in danger from Boyd, largely because he declined to participate in any youth-related activities. Godtland credits Boyd with avoiding much contact with youth in his first year in Fosston. But she said he moved to the Bagley rectory a year ago and has been teaching confirmation there to young teens.

Grundhaus and Balke were not available for comment Friday. But Thursday, Grundhaus said that after so many years of obvious successful parish work by Boyd, diocesan officials no longer were concerned if Boyd ministered to youth.

Boyd told the Herald that while he is a "computer geek," he has never used pornography since 1984 and has never victimized any child. But the depth of the suspicion of some in the parish made it untenable for him to stay, he said.

Darcie Kaiser said she's "on the fence," reserving her judgment about Boyd until she hears more. Her husband, Aaron, is on the parish council in St. Joseph's and developed a good friendship with Father Boyd, she said. And he's been a good priest, better than others they have had in Bagley, she said. She thinks his critics, some of them her friends, maybe "jumped the gun too quickly," in making their concerns public.

Bishop defensive

But Kaiser also is critical of the way church officials have handled it already.

"It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, being what has happened in the Catholic church the past two years, why the diocese never came out with (Boyd's 1984 conviction), so people were aware of this," Kaiser said. "Because that is what is making people uncomfortable. The bishop is not handling this very well. He's not investigating it. It seems he's just taking the defensive."

She said she hopes the rift heals soon.

After the scandal news of the past two years in the church, she and other parents are more sensitive to their children's safety in church, Kaiser said.

Grundhaus told the people at a meeting last week in Bagley they were worrying too much about what could happen but hasn't, comparing it to worrying about having a car stolen before it was ever stolen, Kaiser said.

"I stood up and said, 'It's nothing to worry about stealing your car. You can have my car. But when it comes to our children, you don't mess with our children.'"

Good priest

Leroy Riever is a trustee of St. Joseph's Parish in Bagley, Minn., where he's been a member since he was born 67 years ago.

"It's an unfortunate situation," he said Friday. "Some of the people had what they felt were legitimate concerns."

But he didn't have any concerns about Boyd, Riever said.

"As far as a priest, he was good. When he had Mass, he always did a good job," Riever said.

He only learned about Boyd's 1984 conviction recently, Riever said, but that doesn't bother him.

"Because he went through treatment center and they turned him loose," Riever said. "And they are professionals and their reputation is at stake, too. When they release somebody, you have to accept the fact that if he is fit to be out, he should have been."

Arneson said more openness by the diocese and Boyd about his 1984 conviction would have helped.

"We didn't know about it, so we felt kind of ambushed," he said.

Arneson said he understands Boyd's concern about his reputation, but said that is not the main issue.

"I would much rather repair a reputation than a kid," Arneson said.

Godtland said, "He is out of church ministry right now, which is a good thing, and hopefully, he will get more help. Because I believe it's still a problem."

Balstad, however, disagrees and is confident about St. Mary's future.

"As a parish family we are a very strong and caring group of people, whose main concern would be for children," she said. "And I don't think there was a problem."

Notes: The following statement written this week by the Rev. Rick Boyd - and provided by him to the Herald -will be read Sunday to his parishes in Bagley and Fosston, Minn.

This week I submitted to Bishop Balke my resignation as pastor of the parishes in Bagley and Fosston, and "with regret" - his words, not mine - he accepted it.

As you may know, an investigation of me took place this past week; this was a painful experience, but I knew the allegations were untrue. And in fact, none of the allegations proved to be true.

I understand that there are certain people who do not accept my innocence. And it has become clear that there are certain people who would not accept my innocence under any circumstances or whatever I do.

I believe that my continued presence here would only serve to divide the parish and not unify it. You deserve a fresh start.

Please keep me in your prayers; I promise mine.

Father Rick Boyd

 
 

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