Group Claims Inaction on Sex Abuse

By J. Shane Mercer
December 16, 2009

Fargo -- A support group for the sexually abused sent a letter to the Fargo Diocese taking Bishop Samuel Aquila to task for what it sees as a lack of response to allegations made against a former North Dakota priest.

In the letter, sent Tuesday, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) recounted Richard Jangula's allegation that the Rev. Gregory Patejko had sexually abused him. Patejko served in several North Dakota parishes.

Jangula spoke to the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co., about the alleged abuse in May. The abuse is alleged to have occurred in 1976.

Among other complaints, the SNAP letter states that since the allegations were made, "to the best of our knowledge," there has been"

"no personal visit by top church staff to Patejko's former parishes to urge victims to come forward and get help";

"no public announcements on the diocesan Web site, in the diocesan newspaper, in parish bulletins, or news releases to the media and public about Patejko's wrongdoing";

"no effort to inform other dioceses about your determination that Richard is credible and the abuse he reports likely happened."

The letter also makes reference to Jangula's "troubling disclosure that he alerted three church employees to Patejko's wrongdoing." Those three are identified as Cardinal Muench Seminary spiritual director Monsignor Dennis Skongseng, Fargo Diocese Victim Assistance Coordinator Briston Fernandes and former Vicar General Monsignor Wendelyn Vetter.

The letter says Jangula's "report that three church officials responded to his abuse callously and secretively remains unaddressed."

The letter says, "No one in the Fargo area really knows whether Vetter, Skongseng and Fernandes mistreated a victim, recklessly kept secrets and violated the churches national child sex abuse policy, which mandates 'openness and transparency' in such cases."

"We're worried essentially that three church officially allegedly knew of these credible allegations against a predator priest and at best stayed silent and, at worst, helped conceal them," said David Clohessy, SNAP national director.

But Vetter said he responded properly to allegations.

"I would say we did not remain silent and we did our very best to help him," Vetter said.

Diocese Communications Director Tanya Watterud said the diocese would issue a statement in response to the letter today.


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