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Duluth Diocese To Print Sexual Abuse Findings

Duluth's bishop will publish investigation results in a November newsletter

Nov 18, 2003 | Duluth News Tribune

All members of the Catholic Diocese of Duluth will soon learn of the scope of sexual abuse by priests in the diocese since 1950.

The diocese's November newsletter will include a letter from Bishop Dennis Schnurr reporting the results of an investigation of sexual abuse by priests since 1950. It was included in some church bulletins Sunday.

The study found that 42 people had alleged sexual abuse by Duluth diocese priests between 1950 and 2002. Eighteen priests were involved; none are serving now. The diocese paid out $1.4 million over the allegations in various costs; insurance covered about $700,000.

The study is by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which is conducting investigations in every diocese in the country.

The Rev. Dale Nau, spokesman for the Duluth diocese, said that each diocese bishop has the option of releasing details on local studies before the national report is released. Nau said that Schnurr decided it would be best to release the outlines of the local report before then.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned the investigation to remove doubt over the extent of the national sexual abuse scandal. A scandal broke over the coverup of sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese in 2002. By the end of 2002, about 1,200 priests had been accused of abuse nationwide, according to a study by the New York Times.

"A puzzling dimension of the scandal is that no accurate statistical snapshot had ever been taken over decades of the number of offending priests, the number of youthful victims and the financial cost to the church. This led to mounting accusations of secrecy and stonewalling," the U.S. conference said in a report.

Bishop Raphael M. Fliss of the Catholic Diocese of Superior was unavailable Monday to comment on Superior's participation in the national audit.

The Duluth diocese implemented a strict sexual abuse policy in 1992.

Under the policy, allegations are investigated by a review board, including a psychologist, attorney, physician, school principal, a parish priest and a social worker. The policy requires that a majority of members of the board not be employees of the diocese.

Since 1992, Nau said, two allegations of abuse have been raised. The priests were removed from the ministry, and the diocese cooperated with law enforcement personnel, Nau said.

A Duluth victim of clergy sexual abuse said he didn't think the diocese letter went far enough.

Vern Wagner, who sued the Duluth diocese in the early 1990s alleging sexual abuse by the Rev. John Nicholson, said he wished the church had admitted more while his lawsuit was pending. The lawsuit over the Nicholson incidents was settled in 1995.

"When I settled my lawsuit, all I got from the bishop was, 'We're not admitting any wrongdoing we don't know if something happened and I'll pray for you,' " Wagner said. "Although this is a step in the right direction, this says to me that you haven't come clean to the people involved."

Nicholson died in 1988 before allegations were made. Wagner's lawsuit was one of a number alleging sexual abuse by Nicholson, some dating to the 1960s, when he was at St. Rose Catholic Church in Proctor.

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