Archdiocese Hid Hugo Priest's Child Porn Stash, St. Paul Police Say

By Emily Gurnon
Pioneer Press
October 3, 2013

Rev. Jonathan Shelley (handout photo)

A police investigation into allegations that a Hugo priest possessed child pornography will not lead to charges against him -- because the evidence was withheld by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a police report discussed in Ramsey County court Thursday.

The report by St. Paul police Sgt. William Gillet, dated Sunday, says he and Cmdr. Josh Lego met March 5 with Joseph Kueppers, chancellor for civil affairs for the archdiocese, and Andrew Eisenzimmer, who had retired from that position two months earlier.

They requested a "white banker's box" that they had been told was in a vault at the archdiocese and contained information about the Rev. Jonathan Shelley.

An archdiocese official told them they would find computer discs with "thousands of images of child pornography" and reports that made reference to search terms such as "helpless teenage boys," "naked boy pics" and "hard core teen boys."

The discs came from a laptop computer owned by Shelley, the police report quoted the official as saying.

Shelley had sold the laptop at a rummage sale, and the person who bought it knew the priest was the former owner, the report said. The new owner found pornographic images and turned the laptop over to the archdiocese in about 2003.

His attorney asked a reporter to withhold Shelley's name from the news report.

"It is unfair to name an individual who will never be charged but whose identity will now be forever tainted," attorney Paul Engh said.

The official who alerted police, Jennifer Haselberger, was until April 30 chancellor for canonical affairs for the archdiocese.

She resigned, she said in a deposition filed in a Roseau County court case, because archdiocese officials did not tell police about potential crimes of Shelley and Curtis Wehmeyer.

Wehmeyer, formerly a priest at Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, was sentenced in February to five years in prison for sexually abusing two boys and possession of child pornography.

James Accurso, spokesman for the archdiocese, said Shelley, 52, was on sabbatical as pastor of St. John the Baptist Church of Hugo beginning June 15, 2012, and placed on leave March 30 of this year "pending the outcome of the police investigation."

Accurso said the archdiocese was cooperating with the investigation.

Engh said church officials provided discs of the data from the laptop to police.

But Haselberger told police that some information must be missing.

She knew the archdiocese had hired Richard Setter & Associates, a private investigation firm. Setter in turn hired a forensic expert to examine the computer. Expert Gary Johnson "was instructed to view only some of its contents," the police report said.

Johnson wrote in a report that he found 2,300 images, including those of a young boy performing oral sex on another male.

The report had been in the white banker's box, Haselberger told police.

The attorney for the archdiocese, Tom Wieser, "declined to provide the written documentation (to police) saying they were the product of their investigation," the police report said.

The then-vicar general of the archdiocese said Jan. 27 that he believed the images were child porn and ordered that all evidence be secured in the archdiocese vault, Haselberger told police.

When Gillet first approached Kueppers and Eisenzimmer in March and requested the banker's box, "Eisenzimmer was visibly upset with the request and asked the name of the priest in question which at this time we did not have," Gillet wrote.

"Eisenzimmer went so far as to say that he needed to know which property we were talking about. We were surprised with this as it suggested to us the possibility that there might be more than one case of pornographic materials the church was dealing with and so we asked for clarification. Eisenzimmer seemed to backpedal somewhat and said no, that he believes he knows who the priest is," Gillet wrote.

The officers said they would call back with the name of the priest, and the archdiocese officials agreed to turn over the property.

"Kueppers very clearly said that no property or evidence would be destroyed and he would make sure it was held until we contact him further," Gillet wrote.

The next day, March 6, Gillet contacted Kueppers, saying he needed the evidence. Kueppers said their attorney, Wieser, would call that afternoon to release it. When Wieser had not called by 2:30, Gillet called him. Wieser said he would release the material later that day or the next day.

On March 7, Gillet received a voice message from Wieser saying that three computer discs were ready for pickup, but that he wouldn't release the written material.

The delivered discs contained only adult porn.

Gillet's expressed uncertainty in his report about what the archdiocese turned over.

"Whether these discs given to me were the actual discs or copies of those discs after first asking for them, I do not know nor will I most likely ever know," Gillet wrote.

Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul lawyer who has sued the archdiocese and others over priest misconduct, represents a priest sex-abuse victim who moved to intervene in a Ramsey County civil case. The plaintiff wants the court to release a now-sealed list of 33 priests in the archdiocese who have been "credibly accused" of abuse.

That matter came before Judge John Van de North on Thursday. Wieser turned over Gillet's police report to the judge and to Anderson, asking that it be entered into the court record only if sealed, to protect Shelley's identity. The judge made no immediate decision on the sealing request.

Shelley was identified in court as "J.S."

The Shelley case is an example of why the "credibly accused" list should be kept sealed, Wieser argued. There were "mere allegations" against Shelley that have not been substantiated, he said.

Wieser described Haselberger as a "disgruntled former employee."

Anderson said Thursday that the police report confirmed "a long-standing practice by top officials, particularly in this archdiocese, to retain incriminating evidence, to keep it in vaults and to protect offenders."

Anderson's statement came 10 days after a public radio news report that the archdiocese possessed -- but did not disclose to police or parishioners -- information regarding Wehmeyer's sexual behavior.









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