Police to review priest's hard drive for pornography

Rev. Jonathan Shelley
Rev. Jonathan Shelley served at St. John the Baptist parish in Hugo, Minn., from 2008 to 2012.
Photo courtesy of The Citizen/Deb Barnes

St. Paul police have obtained a copy of the pornography-filled computer files belonging to a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Joe Ternus, of Hugo, Minn., gave police the files, which came from a computer that once belonged to the Rev. Jonathan Shelley. The files contained thousands of pornographic images, including some that may have included minors.

Earlier this week, police closed a child pornography investigation into Shelley for lack of evidence. St. Paul police said today that they will review the hard drive and decide whether to reopen a criminal case against him.

Former official: Archdiocese didn't report priest's pornography

Ternus discovered the images 10 years ago after a parish official gave Ternus' father Shelley's computer. Ternus said he contacted St. Paul police today to tell them that he made a copy of a large part of Shelley's hard drive before he turned over the computer to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

He said he had forgotten about the copy until MPR News reporter contacted him about the computer earlier this week.

"I had forgotten that I even had this stuff," Ternus said. "It was after talking to my family when they said, 'What did you ever do with all of that information that you copied off of the hard drive?' I thought, 'Oh my God. I still have that someplace.'"

Ternus first contacted the archdiocese about the contents of Shelley's computer in 2004 when he discovered that it contained pornographic images. Officials with the archdiocese took the computer from him and kept the information secret for eight years.

A firm hired by the archdiocese reviewed the hard drive and said it contained 2,300 pornographic images — including some that were "borderline illegal" because they appeared to depict minors.

Police have sought Shelley's computer since last year, when Jennifer Haselberger, then the archdiocese's chancellor for canonical affairs, called them to report seeing what she considered images of child pornography that came from the priest's computer.

Ternus said he gave police the computer files because he wants to "do the right thing and turn it over to the right people." He said his backup includes "anything of a personal nature" including documents and images. But he's not sure whether the information contains child pornography.

"In retrospect maybe this is what should have been done in the first place but we were trusting the church to do the right thing and I guess we can see now where that got us."

Howie Padilla, a spokesman for the St. Paul Police Department confirmed today that the department received additional information about the case but said it's unclear whether the contents merit reopening the case. He said they'll reexamine the information for evidentiary value and proceed from there.

The county attorneys for Ramsey and Washington Counties said today they are ready to prosecute the case if police find anything illegal on the computer. Washington County Attorney Peter Orput said he instructed two people in his office to look into the case if police turn over any new information.

"I don't care who the alleged suspect is," Orput said. "I don't think anybody is untouchable. I'll follow the evidence wherever it takes us."

Archdiocese officials released a statement saying an MPR News investigation into clergy sex abuse is "incomplete and leaves a false impression about the commitment of the archdiocese to identify and address misconduct by priests."

They did not return calls seeking additional comment.

Shelley told MPR News earlier this week there was nothing criminal on the computer. He declined to comment further.

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