Retired Superior Priest Suspended

By Peter Passi
Duluth News Tribune
April 14, 2010

A retired Catholic priest has been suspended from any active role in the Diocese of Superior in the wake of allegations that he engaged in sexual activities with a young man, perhaps a minor.

The priest, who served most of his career in Superior, still occasionally helped out at church functions, but Richard Lyons, director of administrative services for the diocese, said that as of April 1, those activities ceased.

"He is not permitted to function as a priest for the Diocese of Superior," Lyons said, adding that the suspension will remain in effect while authorities investigate.

Lyons said the diocese has been in contact with staff in the Douglas County District Attorney's office. Earlier Tuesday, District Attorney Dan Blank did not confirm the investigation and told the News Tribune he wasn't personally aware of any new allegations against a priest within the Catholic Diocese of Superior.

Lyons said the church contacted the district attorney's office when the allegation came to light March 31, and made a report to Social Services the following day. He said the case was handled in accordance with church policies, which also require an automatic suspension.

"Right now, all we know is that maybe something happened, and maybe it involved a minor," Lyons said.

"Bishop [Peter] Christensen has made it clear that any time a situation comes to his attention where it's even possible a minor was involved in abuse, he will take action by removing that person from active duty."

Verne Wagner, a Duluth resident and victim of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, praised Christensen for his actions.

"We, victims of abuse, always talk about wanting transparency," he said. "If the bishop did the right thing here, we need to say thank you."

Lyons said the current allegations are based on

second- and third-hand reports, and he doesn't even know the full name of the alleged victim.

"Someone told someone who said something may have happened, but we have to take it seriously," Lyons said, explaining that the diocese will stay out of the way of a formal investigation.

"We don't want to do anything that would interfere with the authorities doing the investigation they need to do," he said.

Lyons said that to his knowledge there had never before been allegations of inappropriate contact with a minor leveled against the now-suspended priest.

Wagner said he heard about the allegations from a parishioner who learned of his history in local media reports. He said a parishioner approached him with concerns about the retired priest and allegations that he had paid young men for sex.

Wagner, in turn, shared what he had been told with Bishop Christensen, as did the parishioner.

Wagner called on the bishop to encourage former parishioners in the retired priest's congregation, as well as members of the diocese, to step forward and share any knowledge of past abuse.

"If he's the leader of the flock, I think he needs to reach out to other potential victims," Wagner said. "A lot of victims feel so alone, and they fear they're not going to be believed."

People with information about sexual abuse in the Superior Diocese are asked to contact the Superior Police Department's investigations unit at (715) 395-7530 or 395-7652.

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