Bishop Tells Parishioners Their Priest Is Seriously Ill

By Stephen J. Lee
Grand Forks Herald
February 17, 2002

The Rev. Charles Fischer, the former Drayton priest who admitted Wednesday to sexual misconduct with children, is seriously ill, Bishop Samuel Aquila told Fischer's former parishioners on Saturday.

Aquila spoke at St. Thomas Catholic Church in St. Thomas, N.D., and at St. Edward in Drayton on Saturday during the regular weekend Masses. He also will speak today, again in St. Edward and in Assumption parish in Pembina, N.D.

During treatment for a serious illness, Fischer made a number of admissions about his personal behavior regarding sexual misconduct with children, Aquila told parishioners.


Aquila would not give details of Fischer's illness, except that it is not life threatening and is being treated in Fargo, said Stacey Majkrzak, director of communication for the diocese.

After removing Fischer from any duties in the diocese immediately, Aquila said he felt it necessary to visit the parishes where Fischer said he committed the misconduct.

As one of your shepherds, I want to share with you my sincere and deep regret for the hurt that Father Fischer's inexcusable actions have caused, especially for the families and children involved, Aquila said in a written statement he delivered to both parishes Saturday. Citing the investigation, Aquila said he could not say how many victims Fischer had or where they lived.

The diocese is cooperating with a criminal investigation led by the state's Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Since June 2000, Fischer has taught theology at Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo; he resigned that post Thursday, Aquila said. After Mass Saturday in St. Thomas, Frank and Jennifer Contreras stopped outside the church with their three children and a niece and said it all made them wonder.

What are we supposed to expect? Frank asked. Sending our children to first communion or Sunday school, are we going to feel safe if the priest has to go up and bless them?

Jennifer added, A priest is supposed to be your friend.

Nothing but good

As many said in interviews with the Herald, the Contrerases saw nothing but good from Fischer when he was their priest.

Tyler Schumacher, 17, hurried into St. Edward on Saturday to get ready to serve at the altar.

I think I speak for everyone in Drayton when I say he'd be the last person I would expect to do that, Schumacher said.

He never saw Fischer act inappropriately, Schumacher said.

Earlene Lasch arrived early to play organ Saturday in St. Edward.

She echoed what several others said: To be honest, I have a hard time believing it, Lasch said.

She wonders if Fischer's imagination got the best of him. She and several other parishioners said they understood that Fischer had been on medications while serving there, and had undergone treatments for depression or some sort of psychological problem.

Aquila also gave the homily in both churches, saying that we, too, are called to resist temptation as Jesus did. He also said, The most important thing for all of us is to seek for the truth.

Later, during the celebration of the Eucharist, he repeated the prayer to God: Look not on our sins, but on the faith of our church.

Another case Aquila told the Herald he knows of one other case of a priest in the Fargo diocese who currently faces allegations of sexual misconduct. The priest left the diocese and we are trying to locate him, Aquila said. We're not sure where he is.

He would not give details of who the priest is, or when or where the alleged misconduct took place.

But Aquila said that, especially in light of other similar, larger cases in other dioceses that have made the national news lately, he intends to move swiftly to resolve such cases.

St. Edward has about 110 families; St. Thomas about 50; Assumption about 70 families, said the Rev. Wil Ovsak, who has been priest there since Fischer was transferred. On Saturday, about 45 people attended Mass at St. Thomas, and about 70 at St. Edward, and heard Aquila. Fischer's case is a matter not just for the church but the community of Drayton.

Tom Steenerson is not a member of St. Edward, but he double parked his pickup truck outside the church and went in and sat in the back pew to hear Aquila's statement at the beginning of the service.

He and his wife, Doreen, own the Hastings' Landing and are members of Drayton Lutheran Church, but Steenerson, as a member of the City Council, wanted to give some representation from the wider community of about 900 near the Red River and the Canadian border. He was invited by the parish council president, Bob Lasch.

Something like this affects everyone, no matter if you're a member of the Catholic church, the Methodist church, the Lutheran church or whatever, Steenerson said.

Fischer was an almost daily regular at Hastings' Landing, and Steenerson said he counted him as a friend.


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