Hibbing priest charged with touching teen girls inappropriately

A 29-year-old Catholic priest from the Diocese of Duluth has been charged with five counts of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly inappropriately touching three girls over their clothing.

The St. Louis County Attorney's Office accuses the Rev. Brian Lederer of touching the girls in separate incidents between about August 2014 and last Sunday.

The charges do not involve any direct contact or sexual intercourse, according to the criminal complaint approved by assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jeffrey Vlatkovich.

In a statement released Thursday, the diocese said, "Much still remains unknown, and we continue to learn about the circumstances that led to Father Lederer's arrest. Diocesan officials were not aware of any allegations against him prior to his arrest."

Lederer was ordained a priest in June 2012 and served as parochial vicar at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Hibbing. The diocese said he has been placed on administrative leave "pending the outcome of the legal process" and "is not allowed to minister as a priest and or have contact with anyone under age 18" while on leave.

Lederer is being held at the St. Louis County jail on $250,000 bail and could not be reached for comment. He has not retained an attorney, according to Vlatkovich. The public defender's office said Lederer had not requested representation as of Thursday afternoon.

The allegations

On May 5, police met with a mother who reported that her two daughters had been sexually assaulted by Lederer, according to the criminal complaint.

The younger girl, who is younger than 13 years old, told police about several alleged encounters with Lederer at her school. She told investigators that the priest pulled on her bra strap at a drinking fountain and "came up behind her and rubbed her butt."

The girl also told police about "an incident when she was at the school's playground standing on the 'glider' and the defendant was standing behind her and pushed her while she was on the glider; and that while pushing her he would push her butt," the complaint said.

The older daughter, who is between 13 and 15 years old, told police that Lederer approached her one day at her sister's school and "leaned over her shoulder as if to see who she was texting" on her phone. She said the priest "began twisting the back part of her bra strap" and "moved his hand onto her butt and rubbed her butt" from the outside of her clothing, according to the complaint.

The older girl also told police that Lederer had touched her inappropriately over her clothing on May 3, during a visit to the family's home.

Police arrested Lederer on May 5, the same day investigators interviewed the daughters. Lederer declined to talk to police, the complaint said.

On Thursday, two days after the arrest, police interviewed a third alleged victim, who said she attends Assumption Catholic School in Hibbing. The girl, who is younger than 13 years old, first told her father about inappropriate contact with Lederer, the complaint said.

The girl then told police that she asked Lederer to help her hide in a closet during a game of hide and seek at the school last fall. She said she asked the priest to lift her on to a shelf, and when he lifted her up, he placed a hand on her crotch area, over her underwear, according to the complaint.

She also described a separate alleged incident in which Lederer touched her right breast from over her clothing while helping her with a math problem in a classroom.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for May 14.

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