Northwest Minnesota priest cleared of child sex abuse; deacon now faces similar allegation

Brainerd Dispatch [Brainerd MN]

June 26, 2021

By April Baumgarten

Deacon Aaron Kaiser, a pastoral associate for an office that managed youth camps and rallies, has been placed on administrative leave. The Rev. Patrick Sullivan will return to ministry work.

Just days after a priest in the Crookston Catholic Diocese was cleared of sexually abusing a minor, leadership announced a deacon who oversaw youth camps is under investigation for similar accusations.

Deacon Aaron Kaiser has been placed on administrative leave pending the probe into allegations of child sex abuse, according to a news release issued June 11. He has been removed from ministry.

“Also pending the investigation’s conclusion and in accordance with Canon Law, Deacon Kaiser is afforded the presumption of innocence and a right to his good reputation,” the release said. “To protect the integrity of the investigation, no further comments on the matter will be made at this time.”

The statement didn’t give details about the accusations, including when and where they allegedly occurred.

A former branch manager for Riverwood Bank in Bagley, Minn., Kaiser became a deacon in 2017 and was assigned to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in the same city, according to the diocese’s official newspaper, Our Northland Diocese. He was promoted to the position of pastoral associate for the diocese’s Formation in Discipleship Office in October 2019.

The office manages youth camps and rallies, among other forms of missionary work.

The news of Kaiser’s allegations came three days after Crookston Bishop Richard Pates announced that misconduct accusations against the Rev. Patrick Sullivan were not credible. Sullivan was placed on administrative leave in February 2019 after a report of “boundary issues” was filed with the diocese.

“Father Sullivan is to be highly commended for the dignity with which he carried himself throughout these years of investigation,” Pates said in a statement. “It has been very difficult for him.”

It was the second time Sullivan faced an investigation involving minors. In 2017, former Bishop Michael Hoeppner allowed Sullivan to return to ministry work after finding that accusations of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy in 2008 at the St. Mary’s Mission Church in Red Lake, Minn., were unfounded.

He was then reinstated as a priest at St. Andrew’s in Hawley, Minn., and St. Elizabeth’s in Dilworth, Minn.

Since the latest investigation has concluded, Sullivan will be assigned to the Catholic churches of St. Joseph in Ada, Minn., St. William in Twin Valley, Minn., and Holy Family in Halstad, Minn., beginning July 1.

Hoeppner resigned in April at the request of Pope Francis. The bishop was investigated for reports that he covered up child sex abuse by clergy members in the diocese.

He was the first bishop in the U.S. to face such a probe under new rules put in place by Pope Francis. The move aimed to standardize protocols for investigating sexual abuse that involved church leaders.

Hoeppner, who was 71 when he resigned, apologized in a statement for “failures in governing.”

The Crookston Diocese covers northwest Minnesota and encompasses cities including Moorhead, Detroit Lakes, East Grand Forks and Bemidji.

Deacon Aaron Kaiser
Deacon Aaron Kaiser