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  Victim: Diocese Knew of Abuse Accusations

By David Unze
St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, MN)
December 11, 2002

The St. Cloud Diocese knew about sexual abuse allegations against the Rev. Donald Rieder at least eight years before it removed him as a volunteer priest at St. Cloud Hospital, according to one of his victims.

Bishop John Kinney on Tuesday denied knowing about any allegations against Rieder before April, when Rieder's priestly duties were revoked and he resigned from his volunteer job. Kinney was unsure why the allegations, made in 1994 by a current hospital employee, aren't in Rieder's personnel file.

"I'm not aware that that was in his file," Kinney said Tuesday when asked about the allegations Susan Fuchs-Hoeschen made in 1994, while Rieder was a priest at St. John Cantius. But Fuchs-Hoeschen said Vicar General Marvin Enneking read her 1994 complaint to her during an April phone call after retreiving the information from Rieder's personnel file.

The community has been duped, she said, by a diocese that promised her in 1994 that Rieder never again would be allowed to minister to the public.

"All I wanted is him removed and him not working with the public," Fuchs-Hoeschen said. "Knowing what they knew, why would they put him in a position of trust at the hospital?"

"It troubles me because I assume the way the issue was dealt with ... was in accordance with the policy in place at the time," said Kinney, who said he "removed (Rieder's) faculties" as soon as he learned of the allegations this year.

Rieder had volunteered at the hospital for seven years when Kinney removed him in April after allegations were made regarding his time at Cantius. The diocese didn't assign Rieder to the hospital, Kinney said, but he went there on his own seeking a volunteer job after he retired as priest at St. John Cantius Church in 1995.

Fuchs-Hoeschen, a clinical social worker at the hospital, told the diocese in 1994 that she and her sister had been molested by Rieder years earlier. Those allegations, presented to then-vicar general Monsignor Daniel Taufen, were made before Kinney was named bishop in spring 1995.

Taufen promised Fuchs-Hoeschen that Rieder would never be allowed again to minister to the public, Fuchs-Hoeschen said. Her account of meetings with Taufen, including a confrontation with Rieder, have been corroborated by abuse advocate Maxine Barnett, who was at those meetings with Fuchs-Hoeschen, Rieder and Taufen.

Taufen could not be reached Tuesday for comment. The Times has had a standing request since June to interview Enneking, the diocese's current vicar general, about the diocesan abuse policy. No interview has been granted.

A former parishoner at St. John Cantius sued Rieder and the diocese last week, alleging that Rieder abused her from 1988 until about 1995. Fuchs-Hoeschen said Rieder abused her in 1973 when she was 10 at a parish in Paynesville. She first notified the diocese in 1994.

After his retirement, Rieder volunteered at the hospital two days a week, offering sacraments and celebrating Mass occasionally, said Jeanine Nistler, hospital spokeswoman. There have been no reports of any improper conduct involving Rieder from patients, their families or staff in his seven years as a volunteer, she said.

Fuchs-Hoeschen said the hospital has been supportive since she raised concerns about Rieder. She had seen him at the hospital four to five times a year since she started there in 1998, she said.

She and another victim-survivor attended an evening Mass at St. Mary's in April, and a priest asked parishioners to say a prayer for priests. At that point, she asked herself: What about a prayer for victims?

That moment compelled her to again confront the diocese about Rieder and his public role.

"It makes me crazy to know that a place where I work and am responsible for the safety and care of patients, he's there," said Fuchs-Hoeschen, who lives in the St. Cloud area.

The hospital does background checks on full- and part-time employees at Spiritual Care and in Volunteer Services, Nistler said. But it doesn't do background checks on volunteer or visiting clergy.

"Someone like Father Rieder, who was not a hospital employee, we had no reason to believe that he was anything other than a priest in good standing with the diocese," Nistler said. "We saw no reason to do a background check."

But, she said, "we are reviewing the practice of not conducting (those) background checks."

The Spiritual Care staff consists of one full-time and one part-time priest, Nistler said, and a full-time and a part-time Lutheran minister. Three part-time Catholic sisters and several part-time Catholic lay chaplains also work there, she said.

There are about 40 volunteers in Volunteer Services, she said.

It's unclear the level of supervision that Kinney has over retired priests such as Rieder. He said Tuesday that shortages of priests make it almost impossible for the diocese to function without using retired priests in varying capacities. It's unclear how the diocese compensates retired priests for the work they do.

While a volunteer at the hospital, Rieder had an identification badge that allowed him access to patient areas, including some that are secure, Nistler said.

He started out as a volunteer in late summer 1995, she said. In September 1996, the hospital began to pay a fixed monthly stipend to the diocese for providing spiritual help. So, essentially, his services were paid for to the diocese.

 
 

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