Priest Wrote Openly about Sexual Liaisons Letters
Written by the Rev. Robert Urban to Another Priest around 1980 Describe Encounters with Strangers and Other Clergymen.

By Brandon Stahl
Duluth News Tribune
May 5, 2010

A Superior priest under investigation for inappropriate sexual contact with an adult wrote graphic letters describing numerous sexual encounters he had while working for the Catholic Diocese of Superior and sharing living quarters with then-Bishop Raphael Fliss.

The Rev. Robert Urban's letters, written to another priest, explicitly describe sex acts ranging from encounters with strangers in restrooms and a steam bath to trysts with other priests.

The letters were written around 1980, when Urban, 77 and now retired, was a secretary to Fliss, who Urban writes was away at religious events or on trips when the encounters happened at their home.

Urban, who was suspended last month by the Superior Diocese after the sexual contact investigation was announced, declined comment to the News Tribune on Tuesday, saying: "I don't have anything to say to you."

On Monday, Fliss denied knowing that Urban was sexually active while he worked and lived with him. He acknowledged, however, that he now knows Urban is gay, but said he doesn't believe Urban did anything inappropriate with minors.

"The poor fella is facing this bad information about him," Fliss, now retired, said when contacted at his home in the Village of Superior.

The Rev. Robert Urban after morning Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King in summer 2007. Urban has been suspended by the Superior Diocese after an accusation of inappropriate sexual conduct with an adult.

Fliss said he and Urban are still in contact with each other and that he spoke with him Friday.

Urban makes no mention of sex with minors in his letters, but does write that he was attracted to teenage boys. Describing a confirmation for 16 senior high students, he calls some of them "young studs" and says of one swim team member "I've seen pictures of him in just his trunks 'most delicious.' "

Not all the clergymen Urban describes encounters with were Roman Catholic. One, he wrote, was a married Presbyterian minister arranging a liaison with him before moving to the Twin Cities.

While the letters only refer to acts between consenting adults, they're still disturbing and a possible indication of a larger problem, said A.W. Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former monk who has written several books about clergy sexual issues and studied hundreds of cases dealing with mental health problems of priests.

"The writing about this is a loss of control to a degree," Sipe said. "You worry about, does this person have sufficient boundaries to deal with other people, especially young people, and to control those kinds of things?"

Superior Police Investigator Chad La Lor said he was not aware of the letters but said he would be in contact with the diocese to get more information about them. He declined to provide any other information about the department's investigation.

The Superior Diocese did not respond to numerous requests for comment on Monday and Tuesday.

At least one complaint was made to church authorities in the 1980s about Urban, said Anne Godin, the woman who provided the letters to the News Tribune.

Godin said her now-deceased husband, Richard, was writing a book about the priesthood in the 1980s when he was given the letters by the Rev. Franklin Becker. A priest of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, Becker was accused of child sexual abuse in Wisconsin and California and later defrocked, according to several newspaper articles and church records archived on the website

Godin said she and her husband presented the letters to then-Archbishop Rembert Weakland and Bishop Richard Sklba, both of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but said the two did not act on them. It is not known if they shared the information with Fliss.

Neither Weakland nor Sklba could be reached for comment.

In 1987, Godin received a letter from Superior attorney Kenneth Knudson confirming the letters were written by Urban but threatening Godin with a lawsuit if he made them public.

"Our firm has been retained by Fr. Robert Urban," Knudson wrote, "in regards to your actions in using his name to hold him up to public ridicule, based on private matters contained in personal letters written by him to the late Fr. Bruno Henke."

Superior District Attorney Dan Blank said Tuesday he has received a copy of the letters but has not read through them yet. He said he would refer them to the diocese and to the Superior Police Department.

"It doesn't seem like they involved any criminal activity," he said, "but behavioral or lifestyle issues."

Blank said the Superior Police Department is still investigating the case.

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