Crosby Parish Not Surprised

By Lauren Donovan
Bismarck Tribune (North Dakota)
March 28, 2002

Unlike at Corpus Christi, priest's history was well known to parishioners

During the Easter season of forgiveness and renewal, Mike Ely feels not a shred of sympathy for the priest who left his Crosby church in a cloud of disgrace last week.

Ely feels a huge sense of relief that after more than two years, he can go back to his home parish in time for Easter Mass.

The priest, Norman Dukart, 65, will likely never serve a parish again.

He was removed under the Bismarck Diocese's new zero tolerance policy because the diocese was aware that he had sexually molested several boys three decades ago. Dukart got the word from Bishop Paul Zipfel one day, packed his belongings and left the next. Some townspeople saw him leave Friday morning.

Ely does not bother to contain his elation.

'I'm the happiest man in the world now,' he said. 'I felt fantastic when I heard he was gone.'

Wanda Ely feels the same way. She misses her home parish church at Crosby, even though it's 20 miles away from their farm near Columbus. She's anxious to return to her spiritual home.

Dukart's past was no secret in the church.

Parishioners heard about the long-ago molestation shortly after Dukart arrived at St. Patrick's parish in the fall of 1999.

Dennis Sandberg was on the church council then and was among a group who met with Bishop Zipfel to talk about the priest's history. Some at the meeting wanted Dukart to leave immediately, but the bishop refused.

'The only choice we would have is to go to another church,' Sandberg said. 'The council had no say.'

Dukart stayed and made an open admission about his past at a Sunday Mass. Nearly 50 men, women and children voted with their feet and left. The confession left Ely 'flabbergasted.'

In order to protect everyone involved, the church council, at Dukart's suggestion, decided that an adult would always be present when the priest was with children.

Sandberg was among those who stopped by the rectory to say goodbye to the priest when they heard he'd been removed.

'I hated to see him stripped of his priesthood,' Sandberg said. 'He said it was kind of a relief in a way.'

Dukart moved to his family home in Dickinson and refused comment for this story, referring calls to the Bismarck Diocese, whose spokesman could not be reached for comment. But he told the Journal, the Crosby newspaper, that he agreed with the bishop's decision to remove both him and a Bismarck priest, Steve Zastoupil, under the policy.

'It's so important that people can trust those in ministry,' Dukart told the Journal.

Trust is exactly why Ely left St. Patrick's.

Trust is why he and his family put hundreds of miles on the family car driving to other Catholic churches on Sunday mornings, never really putting down roots anywhere else.

When it came to Dukart, he didn't have any.

'What he did to innocent kids, he should have been jailed,' Ely said. 'I'm not living with anybody doing that to a child.'

Ely said his own children were disturbed by what they heard the priest admit, and by the talk around town.

'My daughter broke down and cried,' he said.

He said he has no forgiveness in his heart for Dukart, though he feels bad for other priests tainted by the scandal.

Steve Joraanstad of Crosby was on the church council back when the stories reached town and the bishop came in to hear the concerns. He said the bishop's attitude was that Dukart had taken appropriate therapy and was cured.

'He said if people wanted to leave this parish, that's too bad,' Joraanstad recalled.

Joraanstad supported Dukart then. He eventually regretted that.

'It's been breaking our parish apart,' he said. About eight of 30 pews are empty every Sunday, empty of faithful who couldn't stay because of Dukart's presence.

Collections were half what was needed to meet church expenses.

Joraanstad said he believed Dukart was a good priest, but the baggage of his past was more than the parish could carry.

It got so he hoped Dukart would leave.

Last week, he got what he hoped for.

Now, he hopes the people of St. Patrick's will return and celebrate their faith together again.

For now, the parish has no priest and probably won't until sometime this summer.

Neighboring priests are coming in for weekly Mass.

When it comes to the daily Mass, Sandberg said the parish people are holding simple morning prayer services.

He's helped lead the prayers for a man he sees as a human being, capable of making mistakes like any other man.

'He's always in our prayers,' he said.


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