Winona diocese names 14 priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse

Diocese of Winona
The Diocese of Winona office in Winona, Minn.
Andrew Link/The Winona Daily News via AP

Catholics in southern Minnesota today learned the names of 14 priests accused of sexually abusing children.

The disclosure by the Diocese of Winona marked the first time 12 of the names have been made public; two were already known to the public through lawsuits and media reports.

Diocese officials released the list nearly two weeks after Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North ordered it to do so.

Investigation: Archdiocese under scrutiny

Some Catholics became aware of the list while attending Mass. That was the case at St. John the Evangelist Church in downtown Rochester, where a few dozen Catholics learned that the diocese had released the names.

Among them was the Rev. Harry Jewison, who read the list just minutes before leading the service.

"Some I have known for years, as we all did," said Jewison, who has served as a priest in the diocese for nearly 60 years. "Some are very surprising to me. I had absolutely no idea in regard to some of these people, although some of them I'm not at all surprised about."

During the 30-minute Mass, Jewison said a prayer for the victims of child abuse, as well as for the accused priests.

"They had their human weaknesses and we pray that God forgives them as we hope to forgive them," he said. "We would hope that those in authority and the hierarchy of the church would also assume some of the responsibility of having defended and concealed what they knew."

Officials with the Winona diocese said in a statement that nine of the priests identified are dead. One was removed from the priesthood and three are in the process of being removed.

Another, the Rev. Leo Charles Koppala, is accused of abuse after 2004, and is on administrative leave pending the outcome of criminal proceedings in Faribault County.

"Over the past few decades, a number of clergy members in the Diocese of Winona sadly have been accused of violating the sacred trust placed in them by children, youth and their families and were accused of detestable crimes of sexual abuse," Winona Bishop John Quinn said in the statement. "This has caused insufferable harm to victims, their families, parishioners and the Church. For this I am truly sorry."

Mike Finnegan, an attorney who represents the victims of clergy sexual abuse, said the release of the names will make children in communities served by the diocese safer. He said the public is at risk as long as the names remain secret.

"It gives survivors of abuse by these men, permission to come forward and get help and break the silence," said Finnegan, who has long supported such disclosures. "Often, survivors are suffering in secrecy, silence and shame and this list and the release today, gives those survivors permission to come forward and get help confidentially."

The Diocese of Winona spans 20 counties across southern Minnesota, from the South Dakota to Wisconsin borders. The accused priests have served in 45 of the 114 parishes in the diocese, according to Finnegan. That includes assignments in 44 cities across southern Minnesota, he said.

In 2002, the diocese reported the names on the list released Monday to researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, identifying them "as having credible accusations of sexual abuse of a minor." The John Jay group had been commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to study clergy sexual abuse in the United States.

The John Jay study found dioceses across Minnesota collectively reported 107 clergy accused of sexual abuse: 33 in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis; 18 in the Diocese of Duluth; 5 in the Diocese of Crookston; 12 in the Diocese of New Ulm; 13 in the Diocese of Winona; and 26 in the Diocese of St. Cloud.

At St. John the Evangelist Church, parishioner Debbie Storlie said she's glad the list has been made public. She said the issue of clergy sexual abuse brings mixed emotions.

"Myself, personally, I just feel an overall sense of sadness for the victims and certainly for those who have failed in being able to provide the confidence that we expect from those role models and individuals that we look to as leaders," she said. "So it's just a sense of sadness."

Last week, St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., also released a list of 18 current and former monks who "likely have offended against minors." On Dec. 5, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis released a list of 30 priests it believes sexually abused children between 1950 and 2013.

The archdiocese also released the names of four other priests who had been included on the list it had submitted to the John Jay researchers, but church officials now say those four should not have been included.

Attorneys of clergy sex abuse victims are also are pressing for the release of similar lists in the Duluth, New Ulm and Crookston dioceses.

WINONA DIOCESE'S LIST OF PRIESTS ACCUSED OF ABUSE AND REPORTED TO JOHN JAY COLLEGE RESEARCHERS IN 2002

  • Thomas P. Adamson, 80, currently living Rochester, Minn.

  • Sylvester F. Brown (died in 2010)

  • Joseph C. Cashman, 79, currently living in Dallas

  • Louis G. Cook (died in 2004)

  • William D. Curtis (died in 2001)

  • John R. Feiten (died in 2001)

  • Richard H. Hatch (died in 2005)

  • Ferdinand L. Kaiser (died in 1973)

  • Jack L. Krough, 64, currently living in Barron, Wis.

  • Michael J. Kuisle (died in 1971)

  • James W. Lennon (died in 2000)

  • Leland J. Smith, 86, currently living in Winona

  • Robert H. Taylor (died in 2012)

The Diocese also released the name of one other priest, Leo Charles Koppala, 47, accused of abuse after 2004. According to the diocese, Koppala was placed on administrative leave in June 2013, pending the outcome of criminal proceedings in Faribault County.

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