Mendota priest resigns from parish after board review; deacon steps aside

Chancery offices in St. Paul
The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis Chancery Offices Friday, June 6, 2014 in St. Paul.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

A Mendota priest has resigned from his parish after a Clergy Review Board reviewed a 1998 incident in which the priest allegedly touched a 17-year-old boy and considered other recent evaluations of the priest, Archibishop John Nienstedt announced Sunday.

In addition, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said a deacon is stepping aside temporarily while a sex abuse investigation is reopened.

Betrayed by Silence: The complete investigation

In the first case, the Rev. Joseph Gallatin, 43, is being reassigned to limited ministry by Nienstedt, following the review board's recommendation. He resigned as pastor at the Church of St. Peter in Mendota.

Learn more about Gallatin

Internal records reviewed previously by MPR News showed that Gallatin admitted he rubbed the chest of a teenage boy under his shirt while he slept in a bunk bed on the camping trip. Gallatin explained that he wanted the boy to stop snoring but later admitted that the incident provided sexual gratification.

The incident was investigated in 1998 by the Clergy Review Board, which recommended evaluation, therapy and monitoring. The archdiocese said today Gallatin has actively participated in those requirements since the initial recommendation was made.

Nienstedt said in a press release the Clergy Review Board revisited the incident and recent evaluations of Gallatin. It recommended that restrictions be placed on Gallatin's ministry and that he continue in a monitoring program. He will be allowed to continue to serve in limited ministry that does not involve minors.

Nienstedt said Gallatin, who has been on a leave of absence from the Church of St. Peter since December, resigned after being told of the review board's recommendation.

In a statement published on St. Peter's web site and read by Bishop Andrew Cozzens during Mass Sunday, Gallatin apologized to the parish.

"I am truly sorry for the pain that this has caused the parish," Gallatin's statement said. "I am grateful to God for the time I was able to spend here at St. Peter's, and to all of you for the ways you help to spread God's message of salvation. So many of you have been a great help to me during this difficult time, and that makes it especially hard to say goodbye. I will always pray for the people of St. Peter's, even as I begin a new chapter in my life as a priest. I would appreciate it if you would keep me in your prayers to God as well."

Gallatin is the first full-time pastor known to have been removed permanently from his parish assignment since the clergy sexual abuse crisis began last fall.

The Revs. Paul Moudry, Mark Wehmann and David Barrett have taken temporary leaves of absence. Barrett later returned to ministry.

The archdiocese also announced today that Deacon Joseph Damiani would step aside temporarily "while an investigation is reopened regarding a previous allegation of a sexual abuse of a minor."

Learn more about Damiani

Damiani's younger brothers have accused him of sexually abusing them as children in the late 1960s and early 1970s. ​Law enforcement previously investigated the case and did not bring charges. Damiani, 61, has denied the allegations.

Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens said the Clergy Review Board will review the case. The initial investigation concluded the claim against Damiani could not be substantiated, Cozzens said, but the Clergy Review Board has reopened the investigation to clarify key facts and to establish Damiani's suitability for ministry.

Cozzens said that to his knowledge, the church has never received any allegations that Damiani sexually abused a minor or engaged in any sexual misconduct during his ministry.

Damiani was ordained in 2009, working as a deacon in Minneapolis parishes and with the outreach ministry for the Office of Indian Ministry.

The archdiocese has notified employees at Annunciation Catholic Church and Gichitwaa Kateri Catholic Church, where Damiani serves, it said.

The Rev. Mike Tegeder, pastor at Gichitwaa Kateri, denounced Nienstedt's decision to reopen the investigation today.

"It's immoral, unjust, ridiculous and lacking of any common sense," he said.

Tegeder noted that the allegations have already been investigated. He accused Nienstedt of harming the reputations of Damiani and other clergy members so that he could appear to be taking the abuse scandal seriously.

"If he would show some Christian dignity, he would step down," Tegeder said.