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New lawsuit alleges decades-old abuse by deceased priest

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Guardian Angels Church, Hastings
Hastings' Guardian Angels Church merged with Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in 1987.
Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

A 75-year-old man is suing the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, claiming a now-deceased priest sexually abused him 60 years ago. 

The man, who in the 1950s served as an altar boy at Guardian Angels Church in Hastings, contends in the lawsuit that he was barely 13 when the Rev. Alphonsus Ferguson first assaulted him in the church rectory. 

His lawsuit, filed in Ramsey County court today, claims the archdiocese knew Ferguson "posed a risk" to children and "despite clear indications of danger" from a "known pedophile," took no steps to protect children from him. It seeks unspecified damages and attorney's fees.

 

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

"When it happens to you, through the years, you always look back and say, 'What did I do to have that happen to me?'" he said. MPR News is not naming the man, to protect his family's privacy.

Ferguson, who died in the 1970s, served at Guardian Angels for 15 years, according to his obituary. The church, which merged with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in 1987, was home to at least five other priests against whom allegations of child sexual abuse and other sexual improprieties have been leveled. Three of those men — the Revs. Thomas StittsClarence Vavra and Robert Blumeyer — have been publicly named by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as having been "credibly accused." 

• Guardian Angels Church: Accused priests and what's alleged

But when the archdiocese released lists of accused priests in late 2013 and early 2014 Ferguson's name did not appear. That shocked his accuser, who said he survived at least three years of abuse.

"I told my wife, this guy is going to get away with it, if I don't come forward. I thought for sure that he would be on the list," he said.

Attorney Tom Wieser, who has represented the archdiocese for more than 30 years, said Ferguson's name is also a surprise to him. A recent internal review of 3,000 priest files showed no sexual abuse allegations were leveled against Ferguson during his time in Hastings, he said. 

"There is no indication ... that the archdiocese was aware of misconduct on the part of this priest," he said.

Patrick Noaker, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, says the lists of priests Minnesota dioceses and religious orders have released are a good step, but not enough.

"If a parent were relying solely on these lists [and thinks,] 'My parish priest is not on the list, therefore he must be safe,'" Noaker said, "I think that's a worry." 

Ferguson was a member of a religious order, Wieser said, and not a diocesan priest. It is not yet clear where he served before his tenure in the Twin Cities, or exactly how long he served in the archdiocese.