Sex Abuse Claims, Secret Payments, Then a Suicide. He Battled Memories of His Past – and the Priests at the Center of It.
By Haley BeMiller
Green Bay Press-Gazette via Yahoo News
December 8, 2020
|The St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere, Wis.|
They often had a tranquil photo on the front, a snow-covered scene or a depiction of Jesus in a stained-glass window. The letter’s author wrote in messy cursive as he discussed the Green Bay Packers, family events or his “frozen” Toyota Camry that required a new battery.
The writer, a top clergyman in the Green Bay area, often ended his messages with “God Bless.”
Inside each card, Nate Lindstrom would find a check for $3,500 from the Norbertines of St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere, Wisconsin.
The money provided Lindstrom with another month of financial stability. But it also took him back to his days as a teenager in Green Bay, when Lindstrom said he endured sexual abuse at the hands of three Norbertine priests.
|A photo provided by Nate Lindstrom shows him at age 14 on the first day of his freshman year of high school.|
According to interviews and documents, the Norbertines quietly sent Lindstrom monthly checks totaling more than $400,000 over 10 years after his parents complained to the Catholic order's leaders about the harm their son suffered from being sexually abused by at least one priest in the late 1980s.
Lindstrom spent years in therapy and taking medication, and he eventually settled in suburban Minneapolis with his wife and three children. But in 2018, his life changed when the order's abbot told him the monthly payments would end.
After that, Lindstrom pushed back and reported additional allegations, but those efforts came up empty. The last check arrived in May 2019. He became increasingly depressed and defeated.
One day this past March, Lindstrom retrieved a case from the trunk of his car. He took out a gun and brought it inside to the basement of his home.
Then he killed himself. He was 45.
While sex abuse allegations in the Catholic church have been well-documented, the case of Nate Lindstrom stands out.
Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney who represented victims in Boston and was depicted in the Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight,” said it’s uncommon for a victim to receive payments without a settlement, contract or termination date. He said an arrangement like Lindstrom’s would allow the Norbertines to operate under the radar, protect their reputation and then "revictimize" him when the payments stopped.
“By not further paying the survivor, the order has sent a message to the survivor that his claim is no longer being validated, and that’s painful for a survivor,” he said.
Over the past 20 months, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, part of the USA TODAY Network, interviewed Lindstrom numerous times before his death as well as friends and family members. The newspaper also reviewed checks, emails, cards and court documents that detail his complicated relationship with the Norbertines.
The picture that emerges is an order that four decades ago allowed priests to socialize with high school students in questionable settings, including the abbey’s swimming pool and hot tub.
“This is not what the church should be,” Lindstrom told the Press-Gazette last year.
The Norbertines deny wrongdoing and dispute Lindstrom’s allegations. Abbey officials said Lindstrom’s claims of abuse by two priests were examined and found not to be credible; they would not answer questions about a third priest who was convicted in 2004 for sexually assaulting one of Lindstrom's classmates.
In a letter to the Press-Gazette, the order confirmed the monthly payments to Lindstrom but said they were intended to be “pastoral in nature.” Current and former abbey leaders declined to be interviewed for this story. A spokesman provided the newspaper with a timeline of events but did not answer follow-up questions submitted in writing.
One priest accused by Lindstrom denies his allegations. A second accused priest died in 2018. The convicted priest declined to be interviewed.
The Norbertines last year identified 19 priests from the abbey who had what they defined as “credible” allegations of sexual abuse lodged against them. They also named three accused priests affiliated with other Norbertine foundations. The alleged abuses occurred between 1940 and 2000.
An estimated 267 priests served at the abbey between its inception in the late 1800s and 2004 – meaning at least 1 in 14 Norbertine priests in the Green Bay area, or 7%, faced abuse allegations that the order itself found credible.
Lindstrom’s family says he was haunted by his experiences as a child until the day he died.
“I feel like they took Nathan’s life when he was 14 years old,” said his mother, Mary.
Working for the priests
Nate grew up in a two-story brick home in Hobart, west of Green Bay, with two older brothers. Their father was a real estate agent; their mother owned a small holiday craft business. The Lindstroms were Catholic and attended church every Sunday.
As a teenager, Nate wrote on a school worksheet that he sensed God the most while canoeing at camp in Canada and northern Wisconsin. Instead of reciting traditional Catholic prayers, he preferred to have conversations with God. “I just kind of speak my mind,” he wrote.
Like his brothers before him, Nate attended St. John the Baptist School in Howard through the eighth grade before graduating to Our Lady of Premontre High School, a Norbertine high school in Green Bay. It was not unusual for him to be in the company of priests.
The Norbertines are an independent order of Catholic priests founded by St. Norbert of Xanten in the 12th century. The order asks its followers to take vows of celibacy, obedience and poverty. The priests based in De Pere serve parishes across the Green Bay area and work with four local schools, including St. Norbert College – the only Norbertine higher education institution in the world. Until the mid-1970s, the order owned WBAY television and radio stations in Green Bay, and they ran two local boys high schools until 1990.
|St. Norbert Abbey grounds pictured on Sept. 29, 2020, in De Pere, Wis.|
Nobertines live in a community called an abbey. In De Pere, St. Norbert Abbey sits on a sprawling piece of land with a church, gardens and cemetery. Before a major renovation in 2017, the facility also had a swimming pool area with a hot tub and sauna.
When Lindstrom was a teenager, some priests also lived at St. Michael Priory, a residence on the Premontre campus for Norbertines who worked at the school. Lindstrom’s older brother, Aaron, worked in the priory’s kitchen when he was 16. He said clergy ate dinner in the priory's grand hall and held happy hours in a community room with a fully stocked bar and television. A truck arrived periodically to drop off beer and liquor, he recalled, and the house boys would sometimes help unload it.
“The liquor was unbelievable,” said Bob Peterlin, a former Premontre English teacher who studied to be a priest with the Norbertines in the 1980s and 1990s. “Bottles and bottles and bottles. A keg of beer on tap at the priory – same thing at the abbey. There was happy hour every single night.”
Aaron recruited Nate and another friend to work with him, and the teens became paid employees for the priests. They would clean, prepare dinner and serve as waiters while the priests ate, Aaron said.
“It wouldn’t be uncommon,” he recalled, “for us to be sitting in the kitchen. All of a sudden a phone would ring: ‘Oh, hey. This is your Latin teacher. Would you bring up a cheese plate and some appetizers for us?’”
The boys encountered priests who came up behind them and rubbed their shoulders while they washed dishes, Aaron said. The boys sometimes discussed which priests to avoid, he said, but otherwise, no one talked about it.
Aaron said the priests who lived at the priory began to separate some boys from the group, including him, inviting them to go swimming at the abbey or to see a movie. For the teens, he said, it was an opportunity to get a free meal and maybe some favoritism in class.
Peterlin, who later decided not to become a priest, said he met Nate and Aaron while teaching at Premontre during the 1988-89 school year and lived at the priory that second semester. He said he never witnessed any sexual abuse but that a “sexually lascivious and explicit culture” was pervasive throughout the institution.
He recalled that some priests would frequently invite boys to the abbey swimming pool and hot tub – a practice he found inappropriate and questioned during one of the priests’ chapter meetings.
“They had a way of finding out what your weaknesses were, and then they would prey on that,” said Peterlin, 59, a retired teacher in North Carolina. “They would find the ones that were vulnerable and they could manipulate.”
Swimming at the abbey
One summer day in 1988, when Nate was 14 and an incoming freshman at Premontre, he went to a movie with James Stein – a priest in his 20s who worked at the high school.
Lindstrom told the Press-Gazette that Stein took him and another boy to see a matinee showing of a little-known science fiction film called “Nightfall,” playing at the Bay Park Square mall in suburban Green Bay.
According to Lindstrom, Stein began sexually molesting the other boy in the car after they pulled into the theater’s parking lot. Nate recalled sitting frozen as he watched the abuse. Once it was over, he said, Stein and the boy got their clothes oriented, and they all went into the theater.
|Nate Lindstrom with James Stein, a former priest at St. Norbert Abbey.|
“After that, it was said that we were going to go swimming at the abbey, and I did not want to go,” Lindstrom said. “I wanted to go home. I had seen enough already.”
Lindstrom ended up at the pool anyway. There, he said, Stein and the boys encountered a second priest who had been ordained that summer. That priest disrobed, persuaded Nate to take off his clothes and get into the hot tub, and then sexually abused him, he said.
Lindstrom remembered the next incident occurring several months later, on a gray day in the spring of 1989. Lindstrom said a third priest, a man in his 40s who lived at the priory and is now dead, touched him in the sauna at the abbey before leading him into the shower and masturbating on him.
“We eventually ended up by the side of the pool, and he had me first dunk my head myself under the water, and eventually he joined in and pushed my head under the water until I basically choked and fell to the side of the pool,” Lindstrom said. “He picked me up and dragged me into another room where there was another boy, and I was made to crawl around on the ground.”
Stein was also in the room, he said. According to Lindstrom, Dane Radecki, then-principal of Premontre who now serves as the abbey’s leader, walked into the room and separated Nate from the two priests. Lindstrom recalled that Radecki later asked the now-deceased priest to drive him home.
“I got in the back seat of the car, and I remember that priest just not saying anything,” Lindstrom said. “He just drove me home. He didn’t say anything. He had just abused me for most of the day and dropped me off at my house like nothing happened.”
Radecki declined to be interviewed by the Press-Gazette. Abbey spokesman Montie Chavez said Lindstrom’s allegations about Radecki were a “total fabrication” and had not previously been brought to Radecki’s attention. Chavez also said the deceased priest “had terrible eyesight and would rarely drive.”
Lindstrom said Stein abused him again several months later, in the fall of 1989. As Stein drove him home from the abbey pool, the priest “repeatedly reached back over the seat and fondled my penis under my suit,” Lindstrom wrote in a 2004 statement shared with the Brown County district attorney’s office.
Another boy was in the front seat. According to Nate's statement, before dropping them off at their homes, the priest pulled the car over, moved to the back seat and forcibly performed oral sex on Lindstrom.
That was the last sexual abuse he recalled experiencing.
What: St. Norbert Abbey
Who: Norbertines, also known as Premonstratensians
Where: Norbertines live in abbey communities worldwide, including one in De Pere, Wisconsin. The De Pere abbey also oversees the Holy Spirit House of Studies in Chicago and Priory of St. Moses the Black in Raymond, Mississippi.
What’s an abbey? A complex similar to a monastery that, in De Pere, includes a church, private quarters and gardens.
What do they believe? The Norbertines are the fifth-oldest remaining Catholic order in the world. Their priests take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, setting them apart from diocesan priests who do not take vows of poverty.
Catholic sex abuse scandal: Child sex abuse in the Catholic church has reached all corners of the globe, including the Vatican, and came to the forefront in the United States in the early 2000s. A landmark 2004 report from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found over 10,000 people in the U.S. accused 4,392 priests of sexual abuse from 1950 to 2002 — a number that has likely increased since then.
Clergy abuse in Green Bay area: In July 2019, St. Norbert Abbey identified 22 priests with “credible allegations” of sexual abuse of minors, including three from other Norbertine foundations. The disclosure came months after the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay named 48 of its priests with allegations lodged against them.
Clergy abuse in Wisconsin: Reporting by USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin has determined that at least 150 priests who served in the state have been accused of sexual assault. Abuse survivors and their advocates, including Nate Lindstrom’s family, have called for Attorney General Josh Kaul to launch a statewide investigation into the Catholic church.
‘What secrets can do to you’
Lindstrom continued high school at Premontre, which merged with Abbot Pennings and St. Joseph Academy to become Notre Dame Academy in 1990. He said he didn’t utter a word about the priests to his parents or brothers.
He became reluctant to go to church during high school, even on Easter, recalled his mother. She also said Nate seemed uneasy when she dropped him off for an overnight senior retreat, where priests from the school would be present.
“He was scared, and I didn’t know why,” Mary said.
After high school, Nate went to the University of Minnesota to study film and economics. He graduated in 1997 and moved to Milwaukee.
Lindstrom suffered a breakdown a couple years later, and the family persuaded him to come home to Green Bay. His mother said he seemed “out of it” and would often stare into space. After speaking with two psychiatrists, Lindstrom agreed to be hospitalized for a week; he was there for his 25th birthday.
He later moved to Seattle with his brother, in part because Aaron wanted to keep an eye on him, their mother said. Both men were attracted to the city’s burgeoning tech scene, and Lindstrom made a living by consulting and producing videos.
In 2002, Lindstrom received a jarring phone call: The De Pere Police Department told him that Stein was under investigation for molesting a boy who had worked with Lindstrom in the priory kitchen. He froze, he would later tell the Press-Gazette, and told police he didn’t know anything.
The call came amid nationwide scrutiny over the Catholic church after the Boston Globe just months earlier published a bombshell investigation that found the Archdiocese of Boston had covered up decades of sexual abuse within its ranks. The Globe investigation led to more abuse victims coming forward across the country.
In August 2004, Stein’s defense team subpoenaed Lindstrom to appear in court and testify as part of the trial. Sometime after the subpoena arrived, while Lindstrom and his parents were living together in Green Bay, he woke up in the middle of the night, went into their room and began talking about the abuse.
His father, David, picked up a pen and paper and wrote it all down.
“Sure is funny what secrets can do to you,” his father wrote on one page.
In an interview, David said he never doubted his son’s account of what happened to him.
“When you were in your late 20s, early 30s, would you tell stories like that to your dad if you were lying?” David said.
Lindstrom ultimately never appeared in court during the Stein case, but testimony from the victim and a witness placed him at the abbey pool multiple times. The priest was charged with three counts of second-degree sexual assault against a child; he agreed to plead no contest to one charge in exchange for the other two being dropped.
In December 2004, a Brown County judge sentenced Stein to one year in jail and 10 years of probation. Abbey officials had placed the priest on leave in April 2002, and he later left the order and priesthood.
“I don’t know what else to say but to apologize for things I did in my 20s,” Stein said during the sentencing hearing. “I can’t say I am sorry enough. … I really took it upon myself since ’91 that I was going to make up for things in my past. And I believe I have done that.”
Days before the sentencing, Lindstrom composed a statement saying Stein forcibly performed oral sex on him. He brought the signed document to the De Pere Police Department, where a detective interviewed him.
During the interview, the police report states, Lindstrom said there were “other priests involved and ‘behaviors’” but didn’t want to provide further details. Prosecutors never brought any charges based on Lindstrom’s allegations.
Stein declined to comment when reached by phone.
Over the next few years after Stein's conviction, Lindstrom said, memories of the abuse began to consume him. He struggled with depression and panic attacks.
His parents noticed, too, and they began to worry.
That’s when they went to the abbey.
Parents, abbey strike deal
Mary and David Lindstrom set up an appointment with then-Abbot Gary Neville, the abbey's leader, to discuss their son’s allegations against Stein. The couple arrived at the abbey with a written statement from Lindstrom’s brother, Aaron, who said Nate was one of Stein’s “many victims."
Aaron later told the Press-Gazette he never saw Nate being abused. In the letter, Aaron said Stein gave him and two friends back massages in the abbey sauna, and he believed the priest was behaving inappropriately.
“It was common knowledge among many of my friends at Premontre that Father Stein was a sexual predator and that he had big problems,” Aaron wrote.
Lindstrom's parents said they proposed the abbey pay Nate $3,500 per month, plus funds for counseling and medicine. They believed the Norbertines should bear responsibility for their son’s pain.
Neville was understanding as the three of them talked in the abbot’s office, Mary recalled, and he agreed to the family’s proposal. Mary left the meeting relieved that he was willing to help and said Neville never asked them not to discuss the abuse.
“It was maybe just assumed not to talk about it too much, which we didn’t,” she said.
Unlike other compensation for victims of clergy abuse, Lindstrom’s arrangement wasn’t an organized settlement. He and his family never sued or signed any documents, they said. The first check went out in June 2009.
The Norbertines confirmed the payments and amount in a timeline provided to the Press-Gazette. In a letter to the newspaper, Neville wrote that he had met with Lindstrom’s parents, who told him their son was abused by Stein and needed help because he couldn’t maintain a job "due to mental instability."
“The only intention with this money was pastoral in nature and to help Nathan with counseling and personal expenses,” Neville wrote.
The Norbertines would send Lindstrom monthly checks for the next 10 years, often accompanied by a handwritten note from Neville inside a card. The abbot sent a letter on June 18, 2009 – 13 days after the first check was dated.
“This is on our books as a gift and will not be reported for tax purposes,” Neville wrote.
The Press-Gazette reviewed a copy of the first check, two checks from 2017 and 2019, and about 70 cards signed by Neville. The letters varied in length: Some were brief, such as one dated in November 2009 that wished Lindstrom well and said, “Hope your Thanksgiving is a good one!” Others include longer notes that discussed the weather, sports and delays in a check’s arrival.
“I’ve given up on the Packers and suggest they play for good draft choices by losing all the rest of their games,” Neville wrote in November 2016.
The order declined to answer several questions about the payments, including their funding source.
Jeff Anderson, a Minneapolis attorney who has represented victims of clergy abuse, said Catholic institutions typically cover settlements and related payments with liability insurance and assets.
According to a 2004 article in The Compass, the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay’s newspaper, the Norbertines spent over $1 million – largely covered by liability insurance – on settlements, counseling and attorney fees related to allegations against 16 priests in the previous 111 years.
Anderson said he knew Lindstrom for 10 years and represented other victims in a lawsuit against a Norbertine priest in the 1980s. He provided Lindstrom with guidance, he said, but couldn’t do more because the statute of limitations had expired.
As the payments continued, Lindstrom met his future wife, Karen, on Match.com. On their first date, Karen was struck by his kind smile.
They married at his parents’ home in December 2014, six months before having their first child together, and Lindstrom became a stepfather to Karen’s daughter. They later had their third child, another girl, in October 2017.
“He was delighted to be a dad,” his wife said. “It’s something he had wanted for a very, very long time.”
Lindstrom cobbled together 40 hours a week between part-time jobs in property management, video production and renovation. Karen said he told her about the abuse slowly over time, and he avoided jobs with managers who were controlling.
He always decked out the house for Halloween and put a disco ball in the basement for dance parties with his daughters. He nursed a salt-water fish tank and tended to his garden, particularly the sunflowers that towered over his backyard.
Life was fun, Karen said. It was stable.
|David Lindstrom reflects in the backyard of his Hobart, Wis. home on June 6, 2020, after talking about his son, Nate, who said three priests sexually abused him as a teen. Nate Lindstrom, 45, died by suicide in March 2020.|
‘This spiral you are in’
Then one day, Lindstrom received the card he had long dreaded: The payments were stopping.
In January 2018, Neville wrote that his term as abbot was coming to an end, and he would no longer have the power to authorize checks for Lindstrom once a new abbot was elected. There would be no more after March of that year, he wrote.
“Your Christmas card shows your wonderful family – you are a good husband and father,” Neville wrote. “Would love to meet them some day. Please pray for me as I will pray for you.”
According to Neville’s letter to the Press-Gazette, Lindstrom wrote back to the abbot within weeks of receiving the news and, for the first time, made an allegation against the priest who he said had sexually assaulted him in the hot tub in 1988. Up until then, Lindstrom had accused only Stein of molesting him.
Lindstrom's letter prompted the Norbertines to contact Praesidium, a risk management firm focused on sexual abuse, and request an investigation. The Texas-based group had worked with dozens of organizations and Catholic dioceses and would later help the order compile its list of priests with credible abuse allegations against them. Praesidium also reviewed the culture at USA Gymnastics in the wake of rampant sexual abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar.
In his letter to the Press-Gazette, Neville said the Norbertines suspended the accused priest from ministry during the investigation and reported the charges to law enforcement and the district attorney’s office. In the end, Neville wrote, Praesidium found Lindstrom’s story to be “not credible.”
Neville’s letter also stated: “I want to be clear that there was never an accusation of sexual abuse against [the priest] before notifying Nathan of the upcoming election in April of 2018, and the possibility of no more checks to be sent after the election of a new Abbot. There have not been any other accusations made against [the priest] prior to, or since this one accusation was made.”
Also in 2018, Lindstrom reported allegations to the Norbertines against a third priest, who died later that year. Chavez said Praesidium found “no credibility” to the claim against that priest, who Lindstrom said had taken him into the shower and later drove him home without saying a word.
No criminal charges were filed against either of the priests.
Praesidium director Mike Riley declined to answer questions about Lindstrom’s case and would not provide records of the group’s investigation.
The order declined to release documents to the Press-Gazette showing the breadth and findings of the Praesidium investigation, but officials did share parts of the report in their timeline. According to that document, neither priest accused by Lindstrom had faced other allegations of sexual abuse, and witnesses could not corroborate his claims. It also noted Lindstrom's initial response to De Pere police in 2002 that “nothing had happened to him” involving the Norbertines.
After the investigation, the abbey elected Radecki, the former Notre Dame principal, to serve as abbot. According to the Norbertines, Praesidium around that time noted the “unusual nature” of Lindstrom’s payments, and both the firm and order's legal counsel recommended they should end.
In a May 2018 letter to Lindstrom, the order offered to provide him with counseling and financial support for one more year. Thomas Olejniczak, an attorney for the Norbertines and former member of the Green Bay Packers executive committee, wrote that Praesidium would select a psychologist for Lindstrom and monitor his treatment.
Lindstrom emailed Olejniczak the following month asking if he could continue seeing his current psychiatrist and two therapists. He also requested reimbursement for prescription drugs and asked that his monthly payments be delivered by the 7th of each month.
Olejniczak denied the request, telling Lindstrom in an email that his expectation of receiving ongoing support was “misplaced” because there was “no evidence of abuse by an Order Member upon you.”
“We are of the opinion, based on the investigation that has been done, that you need the ability to see another therapist as decided by Praesidium not yourself,” Olejniczak wrote in July 2018. “That is the only way that you will be able to escape this spiral you are in.”
Lindstrom relented and agreed in writing to the terms.
Still, he wanted to hold the priests he accused accountable. In December 2018 and January 2019, he submitted written statements to the Brown County district attorney’s office detailing his allegations against the priest from the hot tub and the deceased priest. After reviewing the case, Brown County District Attorney David Lasee thought it appeared Lindstrom had been sexually abused.
“I have very little doubt that something happened to him and that something happened to him involving a priest or multiple priests,” Lasee later said in an interview.
But Lasee said his office didn’t investigate further because the statute of limitations had expired. That wasn’t the case during the Stein trial because the priest had left Wisconsin, allowing the court to adjust the timeframe.
Lindstrom’s money stopped several months later, in May 2019. In total, he received about $420,000.
In some ways, Lindstrom said in an interview, it was liberating – the Norbertines could no longer use the payments to control him. But he also acknowledged he needed the money to help his family maintain financial stability.
“It probably saved my life,” he said.
A plea for help
In March 2019, Lindstrom sat across the table from a Press-Gazette reporter at a Green Bay coffee shop. He was polite and well-spoken but also scattered and angry, assailing the power he felt the priests had over him.
Lindstrom continued speaking with the reporter through hundreds of text messages, frequent phone calls and another in-person interview at his home in suburban Minneapolis.
He also spent time connecting with survivors and former classmates to create what Karen called a “grassroots, underground effort” against clergy abuse. But after the Praesidium investigation, Lindstrom struggled to compartmentalize the abuse, and Karen eventually banned such discussion at the dinner table.
His frustration intensified that summer when the Norbertines published their list of priests who faced sex abuse allegations since the 1940s. The disclosure came as the Catholic church faced renewed criticism in the wake of an investigation in Pennsylvania that found over 300 priests had abused at least 1,000 children.
Lindstrom thought the Norbertines' list was incomplete. Though Stein was named, the two other men he accused of assault were not.
To bring in more money, he found a property management job. Karen said her husband would work 10 to 11 hours a day. He worried about failing and typically showed up an hour early to avoid being late.
Karen also said he had trouble sleeping, started many sentences with “I can’t” and referred to himself as dysfunctional.
Shortly before his death, Lindstrom and his family discussed his job and agreed he should quit. On March 1, he sent an email to Olejniczak, the Norbertine attorney, with a stark subject line – “Please help” – and asked for his support to be reinstated.
“My situation is not good and I’m hoping that you will please help,” he wrote. “I’m going backwards fast and my family depends on me.”
Olejniczak never responded, Karen said. He did not respond to an interview request for this story.
A week after Lindstrom sent the email, his brother, Dave, had Nate’s family over for dinner at his suburban Minneapolis home, 20 minutes from where Lindstrom lived. Nate looked through job postings online as the family ate pizza, Dave said. By the end of the evening, Nate had submitted his resume for a couple positions.
He seemed excited.
Marches and a memorial
The next morning – March 9, 2020 – Lindstrom’s family couldn’t reach him. He was home alone after dropping the younger children off at day care and wasn’t responding to calls and messages. Karen started to worry.
The family soon learned Lindstrom had killed himself with a gun he had stored in the trunk of his car. He was four weeks shy of turning 46.
As police moved in and out of their home, Karen wondered what signs she missed. Her thoughts returned to their children, who were suddenly without a father.
“Their entire lives are going to be shaped by this,” she said. “It’s not one moment in time.”
The news spread among friends and former classmates. A friend of Lindstrom's named Jason Jerry, a 46-year-old local news blogger who for years had posted about priest abuse on social media, published additional photos and comments about Lindstrom's allegations in the wake of his death.
In a surprise to Lindstrom’s family, a priest filed a lawsuit on March 13 – four days after Nate died – contending Jerry had defamed him by making various statements online, including that he had sexually assaulted Lindstrom.
“Tragically, one of the individuals for whom Jerry claims to advocate died by suicide on or about March 9, 2020,” said the lawsuit, filed by the Rev. Jay Fostner. “On or about March 12, 2020, Jerry posted that Jay Fostner raped that individual in the abbey hot tub. This statement is false.”
Fostner has not been charged with any crime. The Press-Gazette is identifying him because he is a former administrator at St. Norbert College who alumni accused in 2018 of mishandling campus sexual assault cases. Students called for his removal during protests over the school's leadership in 2019. In addition, Fostner is publicly defending himself against Lindstrom's allegations through his defamation lawsuit against Jerry.
Fostner referred a reporter to his attorney, Jordan Loeb, who said Jerry’s claim involving Fostner and Lindstrom was “absolutely false.” The attorney said Praesidium found Lindstrom’s allegations not credible and reiterated that his initial allegations did not identify Fostner.
Loeb also said the lawsuit was already in the process of being filed when Lindstrom died.
“There is nobody else that has made an accusation against Fostner, even after Jason Jerry went so public,” Loeb said in an interview. “What this lawsuit is meant to do is stop the rumor mill, hold the people accountable who have been promoting the rumor mill, and put an end to this.”
Jerry denies Fostner's defamation allegations. A trial is scheduled for June.
A day after the defamation lawsuit was filed, Lindstrom’s loved ones gathered for a memorial service in Stillwater, Minnesota. They laughed at stories about the white turtleneck Lindstrom wore on his first date with Karen and how Lindstrom referred to a riding lawn mower as a tractor.
The same day, a dozen former high school classmates, who hadn’t seen each other for years, gathered outside the abbey. Marching back and forth along the sidewalk, people held signs saying, “Remember Nate” and “Stop the silence.”
|Lawrence Chetchuti, friend of Nate Lindstrom and Green Bay resident, protests along Webster Avenue outside St. Norbert Abbey on June 6, 2020, at the De Pere-Allouez border. Lindstrom, 45, said three priests sexually abused him as a teen; he died by suicide in March 2020.|
Three months later, in June, Lindstrom’s family organized another demonstration outside the abbey to align with the 886th anniversary of St. Norbert’s death. They brought a 3-by-5-foot banner and tied it to metal rods in the ground. The banner was a blown-up image of the first check Lindstrom received from the Norbertines.
Lindstrom’s family wants state lawmakers to pass legislation that would remove the current statute of limitations and allow victims of child sexual assault to file a lawsuit at any time instead of by age 35. They also believe the Norbertines should be required to disclose their records on sex abuse allegations to state law enforcement.
“They’re all guilty, at least in complicity,” said his father, David. “I was in the military, and anybody that was will understand: You can’t live in the barracks and not know what’s going on.”
Today, Karen is a widow caring for three daughters, ages 13, 5 and 3, and working full-time from home as a paralegal while juggling household tasks that Lindstrom previously handled.
Lindstrom’s father and two brothers went on a fishing trip to northern Minnesota over the summer, an annual tradition that had always included Nate.
Stein is a registered sex offender living on Milwaukee’s north side and told a reporter he’s “asked nobody to call me.” Fostner is awaiting his next assignment from the Norbertines after his administrative job at St. Norbert College was eliminated last year. Radecki is still abbot, decades after serving as Lindstrom’s high school principal.
The abbey swimming pool is gone, replaced by a conference room.
“I was scared, and I didn’t know how to deal with it,” Lindstrom said before his death. “I don’t know how to deal with it to this day, to tell you the truth.”
Follow reporter Haley BeMiller on Twitter at @haleybemiller.
The American Psychiatric Association encourages anyone feeling severe symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts to contact a doctor immediately or seek help at the closest emergency room. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-TALK (8255) or via online chat.