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St. Louis County Attorney Rubin calls Duluth Diocese delays 'unacceptable'

The Diocese of Duluth's decision to conduct a private investigation rather than contact authorities about child sexual abuse allegations against a former priest was "unacceptable," St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin said Thursday.

The Diocese of Duluth's decision to conduct a private investigation rather than contact authorities about child sexual abuse allegations against a former priest was "unacceptable," St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin said Thursday.

Such delays hamper official investigations. But the county's top prosecutor said he's now satisfied that he and the diocese have put together an appropriate road map for future abuse reporting.

"The Diocese and I have agreed it is important for a representative of the Diocese to immediately advise any reporting victim of their right to contact law enforcement or social services through the Initial Intervention Unit at the time any allegation of sexual abuse by a priest is reported," Rubin wrote in a letter issued Thursday.

After the Tuesday release of a list of former diocese priests deemed "credibly accused" of sexual abuse of minors, officials said they expected many previously unknown victims to come forward.

Verne Wagner, the northern Minnesota director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said Thursday that he has already received several phone calls from victims who had not previously reported their abuse.

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The diocese had faced criticism for its handling of allegations against former Chisholm priest Cornelius Kelleher, who was removed from the ministry last year. Rubin in his letter said the diocese was right to remove Kelleher from the ministry, but said officials waited "far too long" -- about 15 months -- to notify authorities while they hired a private investigator to conduct an internal investigation.

Rubin was asked by advocates, including Wagner, to investigate Kelleher and Sirba for criminal charges. But Rubin said in his letter that the statute of limitations had passed. Two additional female accusers also came forward, Rubin said, but they did not wish to see Kelleher prosecuted.

In his letter, Rubin urged victims to contact law enforcement with any allegations of abuse.

"Unless the reporting party/victim is and wishes to remain anonymous, or the immediate safety of others is a concern upon the report of sexual abuse, the first contact with the alleged offender should be made by law enforcement," Rubin wrote.

Rubin's statement echoed the comments of Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba, who on Tuesday said the diocese would cooperate with law enforcement investigations and encouraged victims to contact authorities.

Wagner on Thursday thanked Rubin for looking into the Kelleher accusations, but questioned whether others involved in sex abuse cases could face criminal charges. He said he was consulting with lawyers to see if a grand jury could be convened in state or federal court to bring charges against diocese officials.

"Maybe statutes run out on priests that were offenders, but I have to wonder as to why folks who did the covering up are not being held responsible for concealing this," Wagner said. "I really believe the county attorney should hold a grand jury and find out what happened, how many people were involved and what the bishops did, so we know whether or not charges can be brought out on this."

Reached by phone, Rubin declined to comment further on his letter or the potential criminal prosecutions of other accused priests. Sirba said on Tuesday that he was not aware of any criminal investigations against any of the living priests who were named by the diocese.

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Wagner and other advocates are still seeking the complete release of files on the accused priests. Two lawsuits have been filed against the diocese in St. Louis County demanding that information.

In the meantime, Wagner said the release of the priests' names was a positive step for victims in the healing process. He said several people have contacted him since the release, with many saying that they were surprised to learn they were not alone.

"It's interesting to talk with folks, because you really recognize how this affected their lives and faith," he said. "The ones I talk to no longer go to church, and yet they miss being Catholic. They have suffered through depression, chemical dependency issues, anger, a lot of shame and guilt. A lot of them weren't aware of where those feelings came from. But as this came out, it started making more sense."

Wagner encouraged victims to contact him through snapnetwork.org. Victims can contact the diocese at (218) 724-9111 as well as local law enforcement authorities.

Related Topics: CRIME
Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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