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St. Paul police urge any victims of clergy abuse to come forward

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Commander Nash
Commander Mary Nash, of the St. Paul Police Department, asks victims of clergy sex abuse to come forward to tell their stories to the police Thursday, October 17, 2013.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

St. Paul police are putting out a general call to the public asking for any victims of clergy sexual abuse to contact investigators.

The call was prompted by an ongoing criminal investigation, said Police Commander Mary Nash of the department's family and sexual violence unit. She declined to provide any details. 

The announcement comes as St. Paul police  investigate Father Jon Shelley and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Nash said victims can come forward and have their identities kept confidential. She also offered a message directly to victims: "You rise each day with courage to survive knowing your faith has been tested beyond all belief."

She declined to say whether any new victims have come forward so far but said she believes there are victims who have not reported the abuse.

Asked how many victims she expects will call police, she said, "We could have one, which is too many. We could have 100."

The phone number is 651-291-1111 to get in touch with investigators.

Jeff Anderson, an attorney who represents victims of clergy sex abuse, said he's pleased St. Paul police are calling for victims to come forward. He said the news conference shows St. Paul police are worried victims of abuse may be contacting the archdiocese before law enforcement.

"I think it's an authentic law enforcement attempt to reach the survivors directly and to invite them to know that they can come to them directly and safely," Anderson said. "They can trust them and they probably shouldn't trust the archdiocese to handle this."

In a statement, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said anyone who has been abused or suspects abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult should contact law enforcement first.

St. Paul police reopened an investigation earlier this month into pornography found on Shelley's computer in 2004. The archdiocese discovered the images nine years ago and conducted an internal investigation that found some of the images were "borderline illegal."

Police learned of the images this year when a canon lawyer contacted authorities about the Shelley case. Jennifer Haselberger, who was the chancellor for canonical affairs, had urged Archbishop John Nienstedt and others to act on the case. She contacted authorities in February and resigned in April. 

Achdiocese officials say they are cooperating with the latest investigation. 

Shelley, who remains on leave, said he did nothing illegal but acknowledged there was pornography on his computer. 

The archdiocese has faced scrutiny in recent weeks after a series of investigative reports by MPR News about the church's handling of clergy sexual misconduct. 

MPR News found top church officials failed to warn parishioners about a priest's sexual misconduct. That priest, the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, is serving five years in prison for sexually abusing two children and possessing child pornography. 

Subsequent reports showed the archdiocese failed to turn over evidence from the Shelley case and gave extra payments to priests who sexually abused children. 

• Twin Cities Archdiocese under scrutiny