The bishop-elect of the Diocese of Duluth has resigned following an accusation of sexual abuse of a minor in the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota.

The Rev. Michel J. Mulloy was scheduled to be ordained and installed as the 10th bishop in the diocese's 130-year history on Oct. 1.

According to a statement released Monday from the Diocese of Rapid City, the Holy See announced that Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Mulloy, who was appointed as bishop of Duluth on June 19.

The Diocese of Rapid City said it was notified Aug. 7 of an allegation against Mulloy of sexual abuse of a minor in the early 1980s. The diocese said it was the first accusation it has received against Mulloy, who has served as a priest in South Dakota for more than 40 years.

Rapid City Bishop Peter Muhich, a former pastor in Duluth who was ordained and installed as Rapid City's bishop July 9, informed law enforcement of the accusation. Mulloy was then directed to refrain from engaging in ministry, according to the statement.

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Bishop Peter Muhich
Bishop Peter Muhich

The Diocese of Rapid City said it commissioned an independent inquiry to determine whether the allegation warranted further investigation under canon law.

The results of the investigation were shared with the Rapid City Diocesan Review Board, a lay-majority interdisciplinary body, which determined that it "met the standard of canon law for further investigation and conclusion."

The diocese said Muhich informed the Holy See, and Mulloy submitted his resignation after receiving a summary of the allegation.

The Rev. James B. Bissonette will continue to lead the Diocese of Duluth on an interim basis until a new bishop is appointed and installed.

"We grieve with all who have suffered sexual abuse and their loved ones," Bissonette said in the statement. "I ask you to pray for the person who has come forward with this accusation, for Father Mulloy, for the faithful of our diocese, and for all affected. We place our hope and trust in God’s providence as we await, again, the appointment of our next bishop."

The Rev. Michel J. Mulloy, left, who was scheduled to be ordained as bishop of the Diocese of Duluth on Oct. 1, is shown in June with Rev. James Bissonette, who has served as diocesan administrator since Bishop Paul D. Sirba's death in December. (2020 file / News Tribune)
The Rev. Michel J. Mulloy, left, who was scheduled to be ordained as bishop of the Diocese of Duluth on Oct. 1, is shown in June with Rev. James Bissonette, who has served as diocesan administrator since Bishop Paul D. Sirba's death in December. (2020 file / News Tribune)

Bissonette, pastor at St. Raphael Catholic Church in Duluth and St. Rose Catholic Church in Proctor, has served as diocesan administrator since the sudden death of Bishop Paul Sirba on Dec. 1.

Verne Wagner, a longtime volunteer in the Northland for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the announcement a surprise, saying he "would’ve thought this guy would’ve been vetted and vetted over and over again."

"When you have someone come forward (with an accusation), it often encourages others to come forward as well," Wagner said. "We'll see if that happens in this case."

Wagner said the situation will be a major test for Muhich, coming just two months after he took over leadership of the Rapid City diocese. He called for the bishop to be transparent in releasing information on the allegation and Mulloy's personnel record.

Wagner has been critical of secretive internal review boards used by the church, but said it's an encouraging sign if the diocese promptly notified law enforcement of the allegation, as its statement indicated.

"I'm just hoping, like everybody else, that the church will come up with ways of being 100% accountable," he said. "Words only go so far. I'll be judging them by their actions."

The Rapid City diocese did not provide any further information about the nature of the abuse accusation, nor did it specify the law enforcement agencies that have been notified.

The diocese in March 2019 publicly released a list of priests who have worked within the Rapid City area and been deemed "credibly accused" of sexual abuse. The list includes 21 past members of the diocese or other religious orders.

The Diocese of Duluth released its own list in December 2013. With the Minnesota Child Victims Act opening the floodgates to litigation from survivors of decades-old abuse cases, the diocese was later forced into bankruptcy.

A bankruptcy judge last October approved a reorganization plan that provided more than $39 million in compensation for the 125 people who submitted claims. To date, the diocese has identified 38 priests considered to be credibly accused.

The Diocese of Duluth encompasses approximately 75 parishes, as well as other entities, including schools and endowment funds.

This story was updated at 1:12 p.m. Sept. 7 with additional information and quotes from Verne Wagner. It was originally posted at 7:46 a.m. Sept. 7.