St. Cloud Diocese to meet on alleged sex abuse by former deacon

By many accounts, Michael Weber was a charismatic, well-liked guy who was making a name for himself in the Catholic community of St. Cloud during the mid- to late-1960s, when he was a seminarian and later became a deacon at the Church of the Holy Spirit.

But the diocese considers allegations against Weber to be credible enough to hold the meetings, and it is unclear what steps will come next.

The St. Cloud Catholic Diocese will meet for a second time Monday evening to hear from possible victims of Weber, who is accused of sexual abuse during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Mary Brown said Weber was around often during a part of her childhood and knew her family well.

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"He was a fun, nice guy, who was over at my parent's house a lot, especially in the evenings," Brown said. "Sometimes came over with some of his seminarian friends."

Earlier this month, Brown filed a report with St. Cloud Police. It didn't allege criminal sexual abuse, but Brown said Weber was inappropriate with her as a child. Brown alleges Weber walked into her room and watched her change, and also placed his hand on her thigh.

"And it wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I looked back at that and I thought, 'That was weird,' " Brown said.

Brown's account joins allegations of more serious abuse from two cousins who filed police reports last month and a civil lawsuit filed by another man last week.

In all cases, the alleged abuse took place sometime between 1968 and 1970.

Neither Weber nor his attorney responded to calls and emails seeking comment. There have been no further allegations of abuse since those in 1970.

Since then, Weber moved away from the St. Cloud area and attended the University of Chicago where he received a master's in social service administration in 1972. He also left the church and later married.

He went on to hold leadership roles including associate director on the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse. He authored a chapter in The Battered Child, about the function of child protective services in homes where kids are abused. In it, he instructs about when and how to report child abuse.

People who worked with Weber say he was a professional, task-oriented executive. Few of the people contacted for this story would speak on the record, but some expressed shock over the allegations.

Randell Alexander, a pediatrician who directs a child abuse clinic at the University of Florida, worked with Weber on the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect. In 1995, the two were part of presentation held at White House on a report about child abuse fatalities.

"He seemed like a nice guy. He seemed to know about child abuse coming from a social services end of things. He was attentive. People liked him," Alexander said.

Before retiring this spring, Weber was the CEO of Volunteers of America - Minnesota for 14 years. He also sat on the board of directors for the Greater Twin Cities United Way, but resigned on Nov. 14, following the abuse allegations.

The St. Cloud diocese first learned of the allegations against Weber two years ago and filed a report with police. One police report indicates the alleged abuse likely falls beyond the statue of limitations, but police in at least one county are still investigating.

The diocese decided to hold listening sessions after the allegations became public to be transparent with the victims, family members and parishioners, said diocese spokeswoman Jan Marrin. She said the second session — as like the first session earlier this month, is not open to the media — will answer many of the questions raised during the first session.

"Clarification of whether or not the diocese was aware of the abuse back in '68, '69, and '70. An understanding from people, what are we doing today to prevent anything like this from happening in the future," Marrin said.

The lawsuit filed last week charges the St. Cloud Diocese with fraud, alleging that officials knew Weber was a potential danger to children and tried to cover the incident up.

Monday's listening session will likely be the last on Weber, diocese officials said. Some attendees at the recent meeting say it wasn't helpful and the counselor hired by the diocese apologized to the victims for the failed format.

An earlier version of this story said Mary Brown reported that Michael Weber touched her on the inner thigh. Brown told MPR the touching occurred "toward the outside of my thigh."