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Deceased Robbinsdale priest accused of sexual abuse

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A lawsuit filed Thursday in Ramsey County claims that the late Rev. Ramon Buckley sexually assaulted a boy at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Robbinsdale in the late 1970s.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Patrick Noaker on behalf of an unnamed man, marks the first public allegation of sexual abuse against Buckley, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who died in 1999. It accuses the archdiocese of negligence for allegedly failing to protect the boy from Buckley and another priest, the Rev. John McGrath, who served alongside Buckley at Sacred Heart.

Before his death in 1995, McGrath was accused of sexually abusing girls. Two women sued McGrath and the archdiocese in the early 1990s, and Archbishop John Nienstedt included McGrath on a list of "credibly accused" priests released in December 2013.

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

The lawsuits are allowed under a law passed in May 2013 that gives older victims of child sex abuse more time to sue. Minnesota law previously required sex abuse lawsuits to be filed before a victim turned 24. The Child Victims Act eliminated the statute of limitations for new cases of abuse and created a three-year window for older victims to file suit. The window expires in mid-2016. More than 30 clergy sex abuse lawsuits have been filed so far, according to attorneys at two law firms handling abuse cases.

According to the lawsuit filed Thursday, Buckley first abused the boy in about 1978 or 1979 at the Sacred Heart parish office when the boy was about 12. Buckley summoned the boy from class several times, Noaker said, and over about two years would sexually assault him and send him back to class.

The lawsuit alleges that McGrath also abused the boy from about 1978 to 1980 in the parish rectory.

The lawsuit claims the archdiocese "knew or should have known that Fr. Buckley was a child molester and knew or should have known that Fr. Buckley was a danger to children before Fr. Buckley molested Plaintiff."

Noaker said that his client said several parish employees witnessed some of the abuse by accident. He said his client did not report the abuse to church officials.

Nienstedt did not include Buckley on a list of "credibly accused" priests released in December 2013. No records exist of any previous lawsuits involving allegations against him. 

In a statement released Thursday, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens said the archdiocese has "no knowledge of him abusing anyone at any time. To our knowledge, this is the first accusation of abuse made against him."

Buckley, who was ordained in 1977, served at eight parishes during his 21-year career, according to an assignment history released today by the archdiocese. They include St. Wenceslaus in New Prague, St. Thomas in St. Thomas, Sacred Heart in Robbinsdale, St. Mark in St. Paul, St. Paul in Zumbrota, St. Mary in Bellechester and Holy Cross in Minneapolis. At the time of his death at age 68, he was serving as pastor of St. Luke in Clearwater.

Noaker also filed suit today against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of New Ulm for alleged negligence on behalf of a man who said the Rev. William Marks sexually abused him from about 1959 to 1961 at St. John's parish. Marks, who died in 1979, had asked the boy to mow the parish lawn, according to the suit, and "lured" the boy with money and friendship. At least two other men have filed lawsuits accusing Marks of abuse at St. John.

Noaker also said he sent a third complaint, against the Diocese of New Ulm, to Brown County today for filing. That lawsuit alleges that a man was sexually abused by the Rev. Michael Skoblik in about 1968 when he was about 10 or 11 years old at St. Joseph Church in Silver Lake. It accuses the New Ulm diocese of negligence. The lawsuit notes that the priest died in 1989.

At least one other man has come forward in a separate lawsuit to allege abuse by Skoblik.

A spokesman for the Diocese of New Ulm did not immediately respond to an interview request.

Allegations at Sacred Heart

Buckley and McGrath are among a group of six priests accused of abuse who served at Sacred Heart. The list includes the Revs. John Brown, Robert Hazel, Richard Jeub and Robert Zasacki.

Brown told MPR News in July 2013 that he looked at boys' genitals decades earlier but never touched them. Zasacki died in 2008, and Hazel has denied any wrongdoing.

Jeub told MPR News earlier this year, "My offense, apparently, as far as I know, is that I kissed a 16-year-old at her birthday party, uninvited, in front of her friends. It was embarrassing. It was inappropriate. It was stupid...

"I also had a 17-year-old who I was seeing on a regular basis because she came from a troubled home," he said. "She would come in and talk to me. And we usually ended with a hug. One time I kissed her...Those are the two offenses against me. And inclusion in that list takes a big black brush and paints everybody with the same brush and that bothers me."