Lawsuit accuses Minn. priest of abuse on White Earth Reservation

A lawsuit filed Thursday against the Catholic diocese of Crookston, Minn., and a Catholic missionary organization alleges sexual abuse of children by a priest.

The Rev. James Vincent Fitzgerald was transferred to St. Anne's Parish on the White Earth Reservation in 1984 and soon after abused an eight- or nine-year-old boy, according to the lawsuit. Fitzgerald died in 2009.

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The defendants knew about a pattern of abuse and failed to stop it, attorney Jeff Anderson said. "We're really seeking a public disclosure and revelation of secrets that have long been kept and hoping to get the Catholic bishops in all the dioceses in Minnesota to come clean and become both transparent and do outreach," he said.

There are allegations of sexual abuse against Fitzgerald dating to the 1960s, Anderson added.

The lawsuit was filed against the Catholic Diocese of Crookston and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic missionary organization. Its missionaries began working on Minnesota American Indian reservations in 1923 and continue today, according to the order's website.

The suit seeks more than $50,000. It also asks the court to order the Crookston diocese to release a list of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of children.

Fitzgerald was never accused of, or investigated for, any allegations of misconduct during his time at the diocese, Crookston Diocese Vicar General David Baumgartner said in a statement. "We stand with all who want the facts of this matter known and justice done," he added.

Anderson said Fitzgerald worked for dioceses in Sioux Falls, Duluth and Crookston and served churches on the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota and the Leech Lake and White Earth Reservations in Minnesota between 1968 and 1985. A civil suit filed in 2010 claimed Fitzgerald abused children on the Lake Traverse Reservation but it was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.

A separate investigation is underway on the South Dakota Rosebud Indian reservation involving alleged sexual abuse of children by a Minnesota priest, Reverend Clarence Vavra.