Lawsuit Charges Sexual Misconduct against Former Hastings Man

By Jane Lightbourn
Hastings Star-Gazette
December 23, 2009

Minnesota -- A deceased former Hastings area resident and priest, who was a counselor at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., for many years, is named in two civil lawsuits filed in Stearns County alleging sexual misconduct as far back as the early 1970s.

The first lawsuit was filed by Jeremiah "Jerry" McCarthy, now living in New York. He accuses the college and the church officials of knowing in the mid-1960s that the Rev. Bruce Wollmering, who died earlier this year at the age of 68, had been "sexually inappropriate" with a child.

McCarthy was a 16-year-old preparatory student at St. John's in 1971 when he met with Wollmering for academic and psychological testing and spiritual counseling. He said the sexual contact with Wollmering occurred in Wollmering's office.

According to the first lawsuit, McCarthy accuses Wollmering of having a long history of sexual misconduct with students and the college of being aware of it.

The second lawsuit, filed Dec. 16, names Wollmering, two other individuals and the Order of St. Benedict, charging them with sexual misconduct (or being aware of the misconduct) against a then-student at the university.

The suit alleges Wollmering, the Rev. Finnian McDonald and Brother John Kelly sexually violated a 19-year-old student (identified only as John Doe in the lawsuit) and that Catholic officials knew or should have known of the incidents.

Specifically, the lawsuit charges that from 1984 to 1986, through his "role of psychologist, counselor and/or spiritual advisor," Wollmering "deceived" Doe into "engaging in illegal sexual contact with him under the guise of providing religious instruction and emotional counseling."

The lawsuit also alleges McDonald, while heading the academic advisory program, sexually exploited Doe, and that Kelly, while a faculty member engaged in illegal sexual contact with Doe.

According to the lawsuit, Doe was "raised in a devout Roman Catholic family and therefore developed great admiration, trust, reverence and respect for the Roman Catholic Church and its agents."

The lawsuit indicated Wollmering provided spiritual and emotional guidance to Doe. But that, beginning in 1984, "Wollmering deceived Plaintiff John Doe into engaging in sexual contact." The sexual contact continued for approximately two years, according to the lawsuit.

"That a student gets sexually abused by three clerics in three years at St. John's shows that the recklessness, deceit, corruption of church officials was very widespread," said attorney Patrick Noaker of the St. Paul law firm of Jeffrey Anderson and Associates, who is representing the alleged victim. "We're grateful for this young man and each of the dozens of others who have helped expose dangerous Benedictine clerics."

The suits seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages. Doe, now in his 40s, lives on the west coast.

After the first civil lawsuit was filed in Stearns County (Dec. 9), St. John's Abbey released a statement, indicating its position. "St. John's takes the issue of sexual misconduct very seriously, and over many years, has worked to ensure that policies and procedures on human rights are followed and enforced," the statement said.


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