Priest may return to ministry after allegation 'not substantiated'

The Rev. Gerald Dvorak, who went on a leave of absence in May because of an allegation that he sexually abused a child in the 1970s, will return to ministry after a confidential archdiocesan-funded review found the allegation to be "not substantiated," Archbishop Bernard Hebda said in a statement Wednesday.

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

Hebda did not describe the allegation against Dvorak or disclose the names of the people on the 12-member archdiocesan board that evaluated the claim. Dvorak will return to his assignment as pastor of St. Peter in Richfield. He could not be immediately reached for comment. Dvorak has previously denied abusing anyone.

"The Archdiocesan Ministerial Review Board (MRB) reviewed this entire matter, including results of the investigation and other information related to Rev. Dvorak's 37 years of faithful service to this Archdiocese," Hebda said in his statement.

"The MRB concluded that the allegation is not substantiated and recommended that Rev. Dvorak should be returned to ministry."

The private investigation "included interviews with Rev. Dvorak and with the complainant," Hebda said.

Minneapolis police spokesperson John Elder said Wednesday that police did not investigate because the alleged victim did not contact police. Instead, a police commander told an official at the archdiocese to "look into it" and asked the archdiocesan official to tell the alleged victim "that we would like to speak to him or her," Elder said.

Elder said it's not possible for police to investigate a sex abuse claim unless a victim contacts police. "We had asked for this victim to come forward and victims to come forward a number of times, and if the victim chooses not to engage the police in any manner, we don't have a victim," he said.

Hebda said the archdiocese acted with the authorization of law enforcement. "Upon completion of the Archdiocesan investigation, law enforcement was notified of the results of the investigation and the decision to reinstate Father Dvorak," he said.

For nearly two years, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has faced intense scrutiny for its handling of priests accused of sexual abuse. The crisis began in the fall of 2013 when MPR News revealed top church officials had kept some abusers in ministry, gave secret payments to several priests who had admitted to sexually abusing children, and failed to warn parishioners about sexual misconduct by the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, a priest now in prison for sexually abusing two sons of a parish employee. Wehmeyer recently pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting another boy in Wisconsin.

The archdiocese responded to the scandal by commissioning a task force to review how it handles abuse cases. A judge forced the archdiocese to reveal the names of 33 priests deemed "credibly accused" of child sex abuse. Earlier this year, the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi filed criminal charges against the archdiocese for its handling of the Wehmeyer case. In June, Archbishop John Nienstedt resigned.

Hebda, who is serving as a temporary administrator of the Twin Cities archdiocese, did not immediately respond to an interview request.

Rev. Joseph Gallatin will not return to ministry

Hedba also announced Wednesday that the Rev. Joseph Gallatin, who had been on a "restricted" status because of alleged misconduct, will not return to ministry.

In December 2013, when Gallatin went on a leave of absence, the archdiocese's spokesperson described the allegation as "a single incident of inappropriate conduct with a minor many years ago involving a boundary violation."

However, an MPR News investigation had found that top church officials knew that Gallatin was sexually attracted to teenage boys - and that he had touched a 17-year-old boy while he slept in a bunk bed on a church trip to West Virginia in 1998.

In 2002, then-chancellor Bill Fallon summarized the bunk bed incident in a memo to Archbishop Harry Flynn and the Rev. Kevin McDonough, Flynn's top deputy.

"He ran his hand down the young man's arm and then moved his hand beneath the young man's tee shirt and began rubbing his stomach and chest," Fallon wrote.

He added, "In a subsequent meeting with Fr. McDonough and me, Fr. Gallatin admitted that there was some sexual pleasure in this touching." Gallatin "realizes that he may have sexual attractions to male as young as twelve although his primary interest is in older teenage males," a clinician wrote in a 2001 report provided to the archdiocese.

In a statement released Wednesday, Hebda said he had referred the case to the Vatican "for adjudication and final resolution" after the review board found "sufficient evidence to support an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor."

Although Hebda did not describe the allegation, he said the archdiocese first received it in 1998 -the same year as the bunk bed incident. He did not explain why three previous archdiocese-funded reviews over the past 17 years determined there wasn't enough evidence. Gallatin could not be immediately reached for comment.

Hebda said in his statement Wednesday, "Rev. Gallatin has denied that he has sexually abused a minor and is accorded the presumption of innocence during this time."

It's not clear what Hebda has asked the Vatican to do. In some cases, bishops have asked the pope to defrock priests against their will or have convinced priests accused of abuse to submit a voluntary request to the Vatican to be removed from the priesthood.

"I do not know how long it will take for Rome to resolve this matter," Hebda said, "but I have confidence that they will proceed with fairness and justice for all parties involved."

Hebda said Gallatin cannot wear a collar, present himself as a priest in public, celebrate Mass with lay people, hear confessions, preach, assist in weddings or funerals or engage in any other priestly ministry.

"Imposing these precautionary measures reflects the seriousness of the allegation, but should not be viewed as a presumption of guilt," Hebda said.

Review board

For more than a decade, the archdiocese has relied on private review boards to examine abuse claims. The latest version, the Ministerial Review Board, includes 12 people - all of whom have signed a confidentiality agreement "and are bound not to disclose the file materials, MRB deliberations or recommendations," the archdiocese said in a separate statement released Wednesday.

Eleven of the 12 members are Catholic, and five have law degrees, according to the archdiocese's statement. "Several have personal or professional experience with victims of violence and abuse, including child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence," it said.

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