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Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba speaks Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, at a news conference during which the diocese released the names of priests who were credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE/Steve Kuchera

Duluth Diocese releases list of accused priests

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Tom Olsen | Forum News Service

DULUTH - Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba told members of the media Tuesday that the history of sex abuse cases in the Catholic Church is a “sad truth that must be acknowledged,” and that the church wants to help victims heal and encourage others to come forward with their stories.

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That’s why the Diocese of Duluth on Tuesday released a list of 17 priests it has determined to be “credibly accused” of wrongdoing, Sirba said.

“We’re committed to doing what we can to support children,” the bishop said at a news conference at the diocese’s headquarters. “We want to support the healing among victims, and this is an important step.”

Sirba said the release was due, at least in part, to pressure from victims and advocates who have long sought full disclosure from the church in sex abuse cases.

Of the 17 priests, only three are still alive, according to the diocese. Sirba said the list is complete to the best of his knowledge, and promised that the diocese would, in the future, reveal any additional priests who are credibly accused.

Also included on the list were five priests who have lived or worked in the region and have been identified previously.

All 22 priests named Tuesday have been removed from the church, are still under investigation or were deceased before the accusations surfaced, according to the diocese.

The list covers priests accused since 1950 in the diocese’s area, which covers Aitkin, Carlton, Cass, Cook, Crow Wing, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, Pine and St. Louis counties.

Sirba noted that the list covers a broad period of time in the diocese’s history — one of the priests on the list was born in 1869 and has been dead for nearly 70 years.

“A number of clergy members in the Diocese of Duluth have violated the sacred trust placed in them by children, youth and their families,” Sirba said. “These clergy have caused terrible harm to victims, the victims’ families, to our community, to our church and to many, many good priests who faithfully carry out their duties to God’s people with love and generosity each and every day.”

Some of the priests were already publicly known through previous accusations and lawsuits, but many were revealed for the first time Tuesday.

Verne Wagner, the northern Minnesota director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the release should open the door for other victims to come forward.

“For the church to move forward, it’s important that all this information come out so we can learn from it and never repeat it, and so we can better protect kids right now,” Wagner said. “Still, we hope today’s disclosure will prod others who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes or cover-ups in Minnesota to step forward, call police, expose wrongdoers, protect kids and start healing.”

Sirba also encouraged other victims to come forward by contacting both civil authorities and the diocese. He said he regularly speaks with victims about ways the diocese can help them heal.

Duluth follows the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona in releasing lists of accused priests. Those, however, were released after a court order; the Duluth release was done voluntarily by the diocese.

It was possible, though, that the Duluth diocese would have been ordered to turn over its list as well. Two civil suits filed in St. Louis County are seeking complete files for each accused priest.

Attorney Mike Finnegan, who is handling both cases, said the diocese took a step forward by releasing the names, but said he would continue to seek more complete files through the lawsuits.

“The information provided by the diocese today shows that more than 50 parishes in the Diocese had at least one of the credibly accused priests on the list serve with them at one time or another,” Finnegan said. “That means that a lot of parishioners and community members were exposed to these priests, making it vital that the Diocese provide the public with all of the information it has on these men.”

Asked about the litigation, Sirba did not say whether the diocese would consider releasing complete files, but said he hopes releasing the names and biographical information will help the healing process for victims.

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