Archdiocese reopens two cases on alleged sexual conduct
By Raya Zimmerman
June 22, 2014
|Archbishop John C. Nienstedt in October 2010.|
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis temporarily removed a deacon on Sunday after reopening a previous allegation of sexual abuse of his younger brothers and also placed restrictions on a priest for an alleged boundary violation.
Archbishop John C. Nienstedt's decisions follow the archdiocese Clergy Review Board's investigations into the files of all clergy that started last fall regarding alleged sexual abuse.
The Rev. Joseph Gallatin, who had been on a leave of absence as pastor of the Church of Saint Peter in Mendota since December last year, has now resigned.
Deacon Joseph Damiani, whose alleged abuse more than 40 years ago happened decades before he was ordained, consistently has denied the allegations, Bishop Andrew H.
Cozzens said in a statement released Sunday.
Damiani, 61, of Apple Valley has served as the deacon at Annunciation Catholic Church in Minneapolis and on staff at Gichitwaa Kateri Catholic Church in Minneapolis in the Office of Indian Affairs since 2009.
"To my knowledge, we have not received any allegation that Deacon Damiani has sexually abused a minor or engaged in any sexual misconduct during his ministry," Cozzens said.
But in November 2012, David and G. Michael Damiani, along with representatives from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), handed out "child protection alerts" to parishioners at the two churches. The two younger brothers of Joseph Damiani alleged that he sexually abused them when they were children.
Earlier that month, they reported the alleged abuse to the Rosemount police, which determined the criminal statute of limitations had expired.
David and Michael Damiani wanted churchgoers to be aware of the deacon's history, David Damiani said, and they wanted him removed from his positions. SNAP publicized the leafleting via the Internet.
The deacon sued his brothers and SNAP for defamation in February 2013. Joseph Damiani alleged that his brothers were spreading lies about him because they were unhappy about the way he was handling the money in their father's trust.
David Damiani, of Kirkland, Ill., countersued, insisting the abuse took place. The case was settled out of court.
Reached by phone Sunday, David Damiani said he was pleased with the archdiocese's announcement.
"This has been such a long road for my brother and I," he said. "It's about time the church is finally standing up for what it should have done years ago."
Going public with the accusation against their deacon brother was especially important for Michael Damiani, David Damiani said.
"What I'm so happy about now is that I set my younger brother free," he said. "That's the main thing that we wanted to go after."
When the original allegation was received by the archdiocese, the claim wasn't substantiated, and the matter was closed, Bishop Cozzens said. The review board reopened the case to ensure "some key facts are clarified and Deacon Damiani's suitability for ministry established."
Any priest or deacon with an accusation of sexual abuse of a minor that is not obviously false must not be in ministry pending a full investigation of the claim, according to the review board's procedure, Cozzens said.
Joseph Damiani's attorney, Marshall Tanick, said the allegations against Damiani were "fully reviewed" in the previous investigation.
"There have been no new facts that have been asserted or surfaced since that time that would lend any credence to those allegations," he said. Damiani would "take appropriate action to protect and preserve his rights and reputation and those of his family members," Tanick said. He declined to elaborate.
Fr. Mike Tegeder, pastor of the Kateri church, defended Damiani and said the charges were baseless.
He accused Nienstedt of mishandling other sex abuse cases, including that of the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, formerly of Blessed Sacrament of St. Paul. Wehmeyer was convicted last year of sexually abusing two boys.
"He's the one who's put children at risk. To get the focus off that, he's doing these witch hunts of people who've been fully investigated," Tegeder said.
Nienstedt said in a statement Gallatin was involved in inappropriate conduct with a 17-year-old male in 1998 on a mission trip. While the teen was sleeping, Gallatin allegedly rubbed the teen's chest and abdomen under his shirt because the teen was snoring. The teen told chaperones, and the Clergy Review Board looked into the incident the same year.
The review board said Gallatin's actions did not violate the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the Catholic Church's written policy on the handling of sex abuse claims. Charges have not been filed.
The review board ordered Gallatin to be evaluated and to undergo therapy and monitoring. Gallatin has actively participated in all requirements since, Nienstedt said.
Nienstedt said there haven't been any other allegations of inappropriate behavior against him.
However, he said there was enough evidence of the 1998 episode to place "significant restrictions" on Gallatin's ministry. Under the review board's recommendation, Gallatin will continue in the monitoring program and will be allowed to continue to serve in "some limited ministry that does not involve minors," Nienstedt said.
Gallatin did not immediately return a call to his home seeking comment Sunday.