From the archives: Polka Padre Kapoun resigns over abuse

Rev. Kapoun
Rev. Robert Kapoun, Feb. 21, 1964.
The Catholic Bulletin/File 1964

Editor's note: This story originally aired on Minnesota Public Radio February 8, 1996. It is being republished as part of a report on the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis' handling of child sexual abuse.

Dale Scheffler sat quietly in the atrium of the Hennepin County Government Center, his back to reporters, head down. His wife Ellen stood by him and her parents comforted Scheffler before he stepped before reporters and directed his remarks at Archbishop Harry Flynn.

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"Archbishop, I come here today to ask you to please remove him. How can you go on living and knowing that they are doing this — please — I'm asking you to remove these people," the 28-year-old said, "to remove all these priests that are doing this to these kids that are getting hurt."

A Hennepin County jury is expected to decide soon if the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis should pay punitive damages to Scheffler, who says he was molested by Rev. Robert Kapoun at the age of 13, back in the 1980s.

The jury has already awarded $550,000 in compensatory damages in Scheffler's civil suit against the priest.

The archdiocese released a letter in midafternoon writen by Archbishop Flynn saying, effective this spring, 57-year-old Kapoun is resigning as priest of a Prior Lake parish. There is no acknowledgelement in Flynn's letter the resignation is a response to Dale Scheffler's plea. In fact, the archdiocese supports Kapoun's claim he did not molest Scheffler.

Kapoun has admitted to sexual contact with other boys. The archdiocese has apologized for the incidents and has offered counseling to victims. Flynn said he stood by Kapoun for as long as he did because of, in his words, Kapoun's progress in personal and spirtual health as a result of counseling.

Now, Flynn says, Kapoun is resigning because although some parishioners support him, others are tired of coping with the controversy caused by the admission of sexual molestation.

Scheffler says Kapoun molested him in l981 when Scheffler was 13 years old and a visitor to Kapoun's family lake cabin. Scheffler says his alcoholism was caused in part by the sexual contact.

"I've been seeing counseling, and I've been trying to take action, knowing that he's in the priesthood, trying to get him out, and my main objective was to get himm out," Scheffler said. "It's changed my life in many ways, knowing that I was a kid, and that I'm OK, and that my parents weren't at fault. He was at fault. And he should be punished for his terms."

The archdiocese says it knew of Kapoun's abuse of other boys but said it had told parishioners it had a system to monitor Kapoun's behavior. Jeffrey Anderson, the attorney for Dale Scheffler, says the archdiocese only told parishioners there was legal action against the priest — and Anderson insists there was no effective monitoring system. Anderson says Kapoun has abused boys in every parish he has served.

"Dale has been suffering in secrecy and silence and in shame for a decade and half, telling no one; that is the dynamic of this kind of abuse," Anderson said, "and there are many other victims of Father Kapoun still out there who have been unable to break the secret, and Dale is asking you to come forward."

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese says if the The $550,000 award by the Hennepin County jury stands, the money will be paid by the archdiocese's own insurance program. She said punitive damages are not covered by insurance.

Anderson said that, in another civil case in Anoka few years ago, a jury awarded $2 million in punitive damages to a victim of sexual abuse by a priest — but the judge reduced the award to $100,000. The spokeswoman for the archdiocese says she does not know how much has been paid by the church to settle the dozens of suits brought over years against priests accused of child sexual abuse.