Abusive priest not closely monitored by archdiocese

Fr. Jermone Kern in 1966
A photo of Fr. Jerome C. Kern appeared in The Catholic Bulletin on Nov. 11, 1966, above a story of his ordination in Rome.
The Catholic Bulletin

The Rev. Jerome Kern, who has admitted to inappropriate "wrestling" with boys, testified in April that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis does not closely monitor him.

Kern, 72, said he meets with a monitor a few times a year for about an hour.

Archbishop John Nienstedt included Kern on a list of "priests with credible claims against them of sexual abuse of a minor" released in December under court order.

• Rev. Jerome Kern: Background, assignment history, status

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Kern's testimony, released today by St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, is part of a lawsuit brought in November 2013 by an unnamed man who says he was sexually abused by the priest in the 1970s, from when he was about 12 to 16 years old.

Explore the full investigation Clergy abuse, cover-up and crisis in the Twin Cities Catholic church

The lawsuit is one of dozens allowed under a state law that opened a three-year window for victims of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits for older claims.

The lawsuit alleges that the archdiocese received earlier complaints about Kern's interactions with two children at St. Mark's parish in St. Paul in about 1969. Rather than remove Kern from ministry, the lawsuit said, the archdiocese, which was led by Archbishop Leo Binz at the time, transferred the priest to Our Lady of Grace in Edina, where he continued his abuse.

'I was always a teaser'

Kern testified that he would grab boys while swimming or wrestling. He said he didn't consider it to be sexual abuse at the time — and that no one from the archdiocese told him it was harmful or illegal. "I was always a teaser, and I liked to tease, you know."

• Deposition: Read the full transcript

At one point in the deposition, Kern hugged himself to try to show how he touched one of the boys.

"Do you deny touching his genitals?" attorney Anderson asked.

"Now I have to think," Kern said.

He said, "I do not recall touching his suit on the outside. I do recall having, I was holding him like this, you know, chest, stomach, and I do recall squeezing him and my finger was a little bit inside the suit, his suit."

Kern said he receives a pension from the archdiocese and Social Security. He said the archdiocese's monitor is supposed to meet with him every three months, but "a couple times it's been seven months ... like when they change personnel."

Other alleged victims have sued Kern and the archdiocese in the past, and several men have spoken publicly about the priest's actions.

Jamie Heutmaker, 58, told reporters at a news conference in November 2013 that Kern touched his genitals and those of other children while they were swimming at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis. Attorney Jeff Anderson released internal memos that showed top church officials were skeptical of Kern's claims that he was engaging in what he called "Italian wrestling," which he said Kern described as a game that involved men grasping at each other's genitals.

Yet Kern remained in ministry.

• Related: Lawsuit alleges church officials knew priest abused children as early as 1969; kept him in ministry

The priest eventually wrote an apology to Heutmaker, another boy and their mothers nearly 20 years later, Heutmaker said.

Kern testified that the Rev. Michael O'Connell, who was the vicar general at the time, told him to write it.

Al Michaud has accused Kern of sexually abusing him in a swimming pool at the St. Paul Seminary in 1977 when he was 15 years old. Michaud reported the allegations to then-Vicar General Kevin McDonough in the early 1990s, he said. He said he was surprised by McDonough's reaction.

The vicar general started sobbing, Michaud recalled, a development that left him "taken aback." He said McDonough began reading to him from a file, recounting other accusations of abuse from Heutmaker and others.

Michaud thought he had found an ally in the empathetic McDonough, but when he called to follow up two weeks later, he said, McDonough sounded aloof and told him he'd have to go through other channels to resolve the situation.

Michaud then filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese and Kern. He said it ended in a settlement that included a promise from the archdiocese that Kern would not be allowed access to children. But church leaders broke that promise in 1996, he said, by assigning Kern to St. Peter in Forest Lake.

Kern described his contact with Michaud. He testified that he touched Michaud in a swimming pool at a seminary in 1977.

"I had my arms around him, in my hold that I told you about before, my famous hold, and the kids were coming and going," Kern said.

The priest said he touched Michaud on the outside of his clothing and thought the boy might have had an erection.

'Credibly accused'

When the archdiocese published its list of "credibly accused" priests last year, it said Kern had been permanently removed from ministry in 2002.

However, an internal document obtained by MPR News classified Kern's departure as a "medical retirement." The undated document was written after June 2002, when U.S. bishops adopted a new clergy sexual abuse policy. The document lists the names of priests who had to follow the new policy.

Kern said he was removed from ministry in 2002 "because of the whole Boston thing that was spreading across this country, da, da, da, and they just thought it would be better if, you know, I no longer worked."

He agreed with Anderson that the archdiocese removed him because it didn't want the public to know how it handled his case.

Deposition: Rev. Jerome Kern