Priest accused of abuse claim from 1970s cleared, but evidence points to another offender

By Maria Wiering
Catholic Spirit - Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis
December 04, 2020

An investigation of an accusation of child sexual abuse against a deceased former pastor of St. John the Baptist in New Brighton has cleared his name, but revealed that the perpetrator may have been a man who later became a priest.

In a Dec. 2 statement to the parish, Archbishop Bernard Hebda said that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Office of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment investigated a claim made earlier this year against Msgr. Paul Koscielniak, who died in 1980. The victim-survivor, then a minor, is deceased. The investigation found evidence that the boy was likely abused on several occasions by an adult at the parish, but the evidence did not support the allegation against Msgr. Koscielniak, the parish’s pastor from 1950-1977.

Instead, the abuser may have been Joseph Wajda, who was a transitional deacon at St. John the Baptist during the time frame the abuse is believed to have occurred, Archbishop Hebda said.

“The abuse was said to have occurred in the early 1970s at St. John the Baptist, where the minor was a student at the school and served as an altar boy for the parish,” he said.

“Records indicate that at the time period in question, Joseph Wajda was assigned to the parish as a transitional deacon as he prepared for his 1973 ordination to the priesthood.”

Wajda was removed from ministry in 2003 due to credible accusations that he had abused minors. The allegations were substantiated and he was dismissed from the clerical state in 2016.

Investigators were not able to interview the former priest, who is 73.

“His present physical condition made it impossible for investigators to question him about the young boy at St. John the Baptist,” Archbishop Hebda said. “However, interviews and documentary evidence from the investigation suggest that Wajda was the offender.”

As a priest, Wajda ministered at St. Raphael, Crystal (1973-1977); Immaculate Conception, Columbia Heights (1977-1981); St. Rose of Lima, Roseville (1982-1986); St. Joseph, Waconia (1986); Sts. Peter and Paul, Loretto (1986); Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Minneapolis (1986-1987); St. Andrew, St. Paul (1987-1989); and Blessed Sacrament, St. Paul (1990-1991). He also was a student at The Catholic University of America from 1992-1994 and judicial vicar of the archdiocese’s Metropolitan Tribunal from 1996-2002.

“While we may never know with certainty the identity of the offender, I am nonetheless profoundly sorry for the abuse that occurred, the suffering the young boy endured, and the ongoing harm to his family and friends,” Archbishop Hebda said. “I hope that, in some way, the information gathered in the course of the investigation will aid them on their journey and also heighten the resolve and compassion of all in the parish community. Together, we will continue to confront past abuses so as to build a safer future for all.”

He ended his statement with a request for prayer “for those who have been harmed by abuse, for their families and friends, and for an end to abuse in our world.”


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.