Winona Diocese Facing New Sex Abuse Allegations
By Jerome Christenson
Winona Daily News
December 11, 2015
Allegations of sexual abuse by a priest employed by the Diocese of Winona more than five decades ago have been made public by the Diocese and St. Mary’s Parish in Winona.
In a letter to parishioners dated Dec. 4, Rev. Jim Berning wrote that “... the Church of St. Mary’s has been named as a defendant with the Diocese of Winona in a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse in 1962 by Fr. Richard Hatch, a deceased priest of the Diocese of Winona.”
The plaintiff in the suit has not been identified.
A statement by the diocese released Friday confirmed Berning’s letter and noted that Hatch was among the priests who were named publicly as “credibly accused” of sexual abuse two years ago and whose personnel files were made public in October 2014. Those names and files were released as part of the settlement agreement that concluded a suit brought against the Winona diocese and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
In a prepared statement, Winona Bishop John Quinn said, “We are committed to address all allegations of sexual abuse and will work in full cooperation as this process unfolds.”
Vicar general Richard Colletti said the bishop will be at St. Mary’s Sunday to pray with parishioners and reassure them that he and the diocese would stand with them.
Mike Finnegan, attorney with Jeff Anderson & Associates, said the diocese has been notified that the firm is representing two other individuals claiming to have been sexually abused by Hatch, one while he was serving at St. Mary’s in 1962-63, the other while Hatch was assigned to St. Leo’s Parish in Pipestone, Minn., in 1957-1960. Finnegan said the individual from St. Mary’s was male, a young teen at the time of Hatch’s assignment there.
Finnegan said Berning’s letter was a positive move on the part of the church.
“There could still be people out there who are hurting,” he said, and the church’s acknowledgement “may give people permission to come forward.”
Hatch was born in 1927 in Pipestone. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Winona at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in June 1954. From 1954 to 1963, when he joined the Servants of the Paraclete, a Roman Catholic religious order, he was assigned to parishes in Pipestone, Fairmont, St. James and St. Mary’s Parish in Winona. He died in 2005.
A 2013 Minnesota state law opened up a three-year window for victims of past sexual abuse to file claims that were otherwise barred under the statute of limitations. That window closes May 25, 2016, Finnegan said.
On Dec. 7, the Diocese of Duluth filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the wake of an $8.9 million verdict against the Diocese and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Roman Catholic religious order. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. So far, the cost of sex abuse settlements have resulted in bankruptcy for 16 Roman Catholic dioceses across the United States.