Identities of priest abusers in Twin Cities archdiocese increasingly are going public

By Jean Hopfensperger
Star Tribune
February 27, 2015

The Cathedral of St. Paul.

The archdiocese bankruptcy filing has stopped the lawsuits, but the public naming of clergy accused of sexually abusing children is picking up pace.

The bankruptcy filing of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis has halted lawsuits against accused child sex abusers, but it has not stopped the public release of their names.

Seventeen priests, including such high-profile men as the late Catholic Charities leader Jerome Boxleitner and the late Auxiliary Bishop Leonard Cowley, were recently identified by victims’ attorney Jeff Anderson. The archdiocese also recently added five more names to its website, including the Rev. Freddy Montero, who returned to Ecuador in 2007 while under investigation for criminal sexual conduct.

The names will keep coming under terms of an agreement reached in October between the church and Anderson, and documentation of the incidents will follow.

Already about 180 people have filed abuse complaints with Anderson’s office, served notices of claims, or are in the process of having notices of claims sent on their behalf, said Mike Finnegan, a partner in Anderson’s firm.

If other church bankruptcies are a guide, several hundred names could wind up on the hall of shame list as the church reorganizes its finances. The process, in fact, is speeding up because of the halt to litigation and the new era of cooperation between the church and victims’ attorneys.

“The bankruptcy itself doesn’t affect our investigation … but it has moved us into a more open exchange of information,” said Tim O’Malley, the archdiocese’s chief investigator.

“We’re staying in contact with them on almost a daily basis,” added Finnegan, sharing everything from documents to witnesses and sometimes even access to the victims.

Instead of lengthy legal maneuvers, the new process of publicly identifying accused priests is relatively swift. It starts with alleged victims contacting Anderson or other attorneys, who investigate to determine whether the claims are credible.

If so, a notice of claims is sent to the archdiocese, which conducts its own internal investigation. The names are posted to the archdiocese’s website when the investigation concludes.

Abuse survivors are grateful the pace is quickening, but ask, “What took so long?” They note that the archdiocese revealed its first list of 30-some priest offenders in December 2013. Then it discovered more. Then more. Now it’s up to 59 — and growing.

“Why do they have to dribble it out like this?” asked Frank Meuers, of the Minnesota chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

“It’s like a bag with a hole in it. The sand keeps coming out, but they won’t open the top. Maybe there’s less impact that way.”

Newest names

The latest names revealed by Anderson’s office include prominent players in Catholic schools, churches and charities. They include:

• The Rev. Jerome Boxleitner, a well-known advocate for the poor, who was known by the archdiocese to have been sexually active with young seminarians, according to whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger in a 2014 court affidavit. In addition, former priest Michael Kolar — accused of abusing girls in the 1970s — stated in a court document that Boxleitner tried to rape him and that the experience contributed to his own misconduct.

The latest claim comes from a man who said Boxleitner abused him from age 13 to 18, ending in 1980, at St. Joseph’s Home for Children. The home was run by Catholic Charities. Boxleitner died in 2013.

• The Rev. Joseph Baglio, a key figure at the Catholic Youth Center in St. Paul for nearly 20 years, who was the subject of a book called, “Father Joseph Baglio and the Catholic Youth Center.” He also served as pastor of Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina. A woman has filed a claim saying Baglio sexually abused her in 1965 when she was 15. Baglio died in 1997.

• Auxiliary Bishop Leonard Cowley, who was a pastor at the Basilica of St. Mary in the 1960s and a bishop from 1957 until he died in 1973. The basilica’s Cowley Center is named after him. A man now reports he was sexually molested in 1968 by Cowley when he was 15 on a trip to northern Minnesota.

Some priests were recently in ministry, such as the Rev. Marvin Klaers, a retired priest who continued to serve local churches in the New Trier/Miesville area occasionally until at least 2013. He is accused of abusing an adolescent boy at St. Mary’s in the late 1970s.

Archdiocese probe

From an office in the chancery, O’Malley and a team of four others are investigating claims. In the past month, they have added five names to the archdiocese’s website.

Church investigators are poring over internal files, documents from victims’ attorneys, and interviewing witnesses. That includes some survivors “who in the past may not have been willing to have anything to do with us,” said O’Malley.

“Now there is a level of trust,” he said.

O’Malley, in fact, says he has consulted with abuse survivors on certain matters. The archdiocese is working to create a support group for victims who want to remain in the church, he said.

The archdiocese doesn’t have to agree with every name sent by attorneys.

“By and large, the archdiocese doesn’t object,” Finnegan said. “It gets pushed to the arbitrators.”

Expect the release of dozens of more names in the months ahead, attorneys say. And expect an unusually close level of cooperation for victims and the church in a bankruptcy case.

“Tim O’Malley and his team have taken a totally different approach than what was done in the past,” said Finnegan. “They are aggressively investigating what is coming in.”


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