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Victims group says 5 credibly accused priests are missing from Twin Cities archdiocese public list

Mara H. Gottfried, Pioneer Press on

Published in News & Features

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Five former priests who have been deemed “credibly accused” abusers by church officials and who previously worked in Minnesota aren’t listed on the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ public list, clergy abuse victims said Wednesday.

That needs to change, said organizers with the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Each of the five were investigated, “declared a credibly accused child molester by his own direct supervisor,” and are on an official list of credibly accused clerics in another Catholic jurisdiction, said David Clohessy, SNAP’s former national director and now SNAP’s volunteer Missouri director.

Rev. Bernard Hebda, Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said of the five men brought to their attention by SNAP on Wednesday: “I have asked our experienced investigators to review the clergy records here at the Archdiocese, along with other available information, to determine whether the well-established criteria for adding the men to our clergy disclosure list have been met. If the criteria are satisfied, we will add the names, as we have done on previous occasions.”

For example, when the local archdiocese was notified in 2022 that the Diocese of Green Bay had made a substantiated claim of abuse against the Rev. Dennis Lally, who served locally before 1982, his name was added to the Twin Cities list two years ago, Hebda said.

Two of the five priests who SNAP highlighted Wednesday are still living and their whereabouts are unknown, according to the organization. “I can’t stress enough — this is a public safety issue,” Clohessy said at a Wednesday press conference outside the Cathedral of St. Paul.

Furthermore, Clohessy said their discovery that the five former priests are missing from the local archdiocese’s list wasn’t “rocket science.”

“None of us are internet sleuths,” he said. “We do not have access to sophisticated databases. … We don’t have a key to the church archives, but we can find these names in less than an hour using material that’s in the public record, court documents, church records, church clergy yearbooks, mainstream media sources. So it would be tempting to think that maybe Archbishop Hebda just overlooked these names, but it’s very hard for us to believe that, because some of these men have been outed by other church officials five and six and seven years ago.”

In a statement after the press conference, Hebda said “victims/survivors and their loved ones have expressed to me how important it is for them to have complete and accurate disclosure lists. With that in mind, the Archdiocese is committed to adding names when appropriate. I thank victims/survivors and their loved ones for their advocacy on behalf of those who have been hurt by abuse and ask that all people of goodwill continue to join me in prayer for them.”

Not all five of the former priests were accused of abuse in Minnesota, but all previously worked in the state and people should know who they are, Clohessy said.

The two who are alive are former pastors William Tanguay and Elwood “Woody” Bernas, according to SNAP.

The Providence, R.I., bishop deemed Tanguay in 2019 to have credible allegations of sexual abuse and listed him on its website, according to SNAP. He worked in pastoral care of Hmong refugees in Minneapolis in 1983 and 1984.

 

Bernas was deemed in 2018 credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor by the Steubenville, Ohio, bishop, and posted on that diocesan website. He left the ministry in 1989 and became a substitute organist at the Cathedral of St. Paul and at a local Lutheran church before moving to Washington state in 2009, according to SNAP.

The Pioneer Press was unable to reach Tanguay or Bernas for comment Wednesday.

The deceased priests are:

—James William Murphy, who the bishops of Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn., deemed credibly accused in 2018 and 2020, respectively. He worked at at a retreat center in the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese.

—Casimir Plakut, who was added to the list of credibly accused in 2017 by St. John’s Abbey of Collegeville, Minn., and the Diocese of Crookston, Minn. He also previously worked for the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese, according to SNAP.

—Alphonsus P. Ferguson, who the Nebraska-based Columban religious order to which he belonged deemed credibly accused in 2022, according to SNAP. A man sued the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese in 2014, saying Ferguson sexually assaulted him when he was an altar boy at Guardian Angels Church in Hastings.

It’s important to also publicize the names of priests who were credibly accused and are now deceased because “the unacknowledged wound rarely heals or heals slowly,” Clohessy said.

“This has happened dozens and dozens of times in our group: A Catholic grandmother in St. Paul sees this name and says, ‘He’s the one who used to take Sally to the movies every Saturday that one summer, right?’ Or ‘he’s the one that used to take Billy camping those times.” And a grandmother or a mom … picks up the phone and says, ‘This guy is a molester. Did he do anything to you?'”

That kind of outreach has “broken the logjam of people who were suffering in silence and shame and secrecy for decades,” Clohessy said.

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