Ramsey County won't prosecute in 7 priest cases; 4 remain open

By Emily Gurnon
Pioneer Press
October 17, 2014

Prosecutors will not charge seven priests and one deacon accused of sexually abusing children decades ago, but four other cases remain open, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said Friday.

Four of the cases were closed by the St. Paul police because the suspect was dead or not identified, or the case was impossible to prove. One of those cases involved two priests.

Three other cases, in which the alleged crimes occurred in 1976 or 1977, 1981 and 1984, were declined for prosecution because the statute of limitations has run out.

"Although we cannot prosecute, this does not mean that we didn't believe the victims," Choi said.

Choi's staff continues to investigate whether officials in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis failed to report maltreatment of a minor in priest cases, as required by law.

The police files in the closed cases include the following allegations:

-- Michael Charland assaulted a 17-year-old boy at St. Mary's Catholic Church in downtown St. Paul in 1981, the man told police. The sexual abuse occurred during confession when Charland kissed the boy and then ground his pelvis against the boy's, he said.

Charland, now 69, left the priesthood in 1989. He now works as a psychologist in Woodbury, according to his online LinkedIn profile. He did not immediately respond to a message left with his office. The case was too old to prosecute, Choi said.

-- Michael O'Brien, a priest visiting St. Patrick's Church in St.


Paul, stayed at the home of a 13-year-old girl while he was in St. Paul fundraising for his African missionary work. Over five days in May or June of about 1972, O'Brien fondled and raped the girl while saying if she told anyone, "you will be struck dead by God and sent right to hell," she said. Police received a letter from an archdiocese attorney in March, saying the archdiocese had no information about O'Brien because he was a visiting priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, based in Belleville, Ill.

Police could not prosecute without further identifying O'Brien.

-- Anthony "Tony" Dinzeo was an ordained deacon at St. John the Evangelist in Little Canada when he allegedly molested a 12-year-old boy doing chores at his home on Etna Street in St. Paul in 1984. Dinzeo, now 76, grabbed the boy's genitals through his pants, and "the only thing that saved him," the victim said, was the knotted drawstring on his sweat shorts. The boy attended Blessed Sacrament School in St. Paul with Dinzeo's children.

The police investigator who took the report was the first person the victim told in the 30 years since the incident, he said. The case was too old to prosecute.

Dinzeo still lives in St. Paul. He vigorously denied the accusation, saying he has had a spotless record as a clergyman. "I never touched him inappropriately," he said. "My hand might have glanced by, but I never did anything sexual with that boy."

Dinzeo left the Roman Catholic ministry in 2001 and now works as a priest in the Old Catholic Church, which is not affiliated with the archdiocese or Rome.

The police file on Dinzeo also states a male prostitute reported to the archdiocese that Dinzeo hired him in 1984. Dinzeo told police that the prostitute was an adult and that the archdiocese investigated at the time. Then-Bishop Robert Carlson "worked through the issue" with him, Dinzeo told the police.

Choi said his office continues to investigate four other cases: One also happened years ago, but because of circumstances, may still be chargeable. Another is the alleged inappropriate touching of a boy by Archbishop John Nienstedt in a May 2009 confirmation photography session.

Choi declined in March to charge Nienstedt, but "there are aspects to that case that we're still pursuing," he said. Also open is the potential charging of archdiocese officials with regard their handling of the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, who was convicted of sexually abusing two boys at his St. Paul parish. Wehmeyer is serving a five-year prison term.

The fourth open case is from outside St. Paul, Choi said.

St. Paul police investigated 10 cases in which victims came forward late last year or early this year, after the archdiocese was accused of mishandling sexually abusive priests.

Choi has been criticized by civil attorney Jeff Anderson and others for not bringing the case before a grand jury.

Had there been a grand jury investigation, Choi said, none of the records connected with it would have been open to the public.

"I'm very committed to making sure what we're doing is transparent to the public," he said.

The police made the records available to reporters Friday, shortly after Choi's announcement that the cases were closed.

The third St. Paul case that Choi said was too old to be prosecuted involved former priest Thomas Adamson. Adamson, who lives in Rochester, Minn., has been the subject of at least two dozen accusations of child sexual abuse.

The man who went to police in October 2013 said he first knew Adamson as "Thomas Riley" or a similar name. Adamson told the victim, then a sophomore in high school, that he was a counselor or psychologist. He invited the boy into a private locker area of the University Avenue YMCA and touched his genitals, the boy said. They also played racketball and basketball together.

Not all old cases are out of reach of the law, Choi said.

Crime victims should never assume their perpetrators cannot be brought to justice. State law determines how much time prosecutors have to file charges, but things have changed over the years, and the rules are complicated.

"I don't want to leave people with the message that if a case is old, it's not important to come forward," Choi said.

Other cases that will not be charged involve:

-- A man accused two Christian Brothers who worked at Cretin High School in the 1960-61 school year of inappropriate behavior. One attempted to put his fingers down the boy's pants; the other did not touch him but asked several questions about the boy's masturbation habits. The monks have since died.

-- A Stillwater prison inmate said he was abused by a priest at the Cathedral of St. Paul around 1990 when he was 11 or 12. He could not remember the priest's name and did not pick him out among photos of priests serving at the time. He also said he was sexually assaulted in two Twin Cities foster homes.

-- A woman wrote a letter received by an archdiocese deacon in October 2013 in which she said a priest forced oral sex on her. She did not specify a time or place of the incident. When pressed by a police investigator, she said the assault occurred "mystically."




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