Stenehjem: Deaths, statute of limitations preclude any prosecution of sex abuse crimes committed by ND Catholic Dioceses clergy

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File Photo – (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem today released the results of an investigation by his office into allegations of child sexual abuse by members of the North Dakota Catholic Dioceses.

The bottom line: Of the 53 people named by the Dioceses, and an additional person identified by the state during its investigation, all but two have died.

And the allegations against the remaining two date back to the 1970s, meaning the statute of limitations in effect at the time had run out, precluding any current prosecutions.

In 2019, the North Dakota Catholic Dioceses compiled and released a list of 53 individuals for whom they felt allegations of child sexual abuse had been substantiated. Stenehjem then met with Bishops David Kagan and John Folda, requesting and receiving permission to inspect all the records of the church relating to clergy abuse.

Stenehjem assigned four agents from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to the cases.

The agents reviewed the files and victim reports, conducted interviews of several victims and pursued new leads.

Of the 53 named individuals, all but two had died by the time the BCI investigation commenced. The two priests still living had moved to Minnesota and one died in October 2020, while the investigation was ongoing.

During the investigation, BCI agents also pursued a lead that resulted in the identification of one new individual as a likely perpetrator of child sexual abuse. This person is an Order of Saint Benedict priest at Assumption Abbey in Richardton, which is not under the jurisdiction of the Dioceses.

The allegations against the two dated back to the 1970s. Although the 2019 North Dakota Legislature extended the statute of limitations for prosecution of sexual abuse crimes, U.S. Supreme Court rulings have held once a statute of limitations has already expired, a criminal prosecution cannot be revived.

Although the Attorney General’s office determined that probable cause existed that could have led to criminal charges being filed against the two surviving clergy, the alleged acts of abuse occurred so long ago that the statute of limitations had run out, meaning neither person can be criminally charged.

“I regret it will not be possible to have these men face their victims at a trial and face the potential consequences, but I hope it brings a measure of comfort to the victims that these crimes were eventually investigated,” said Stenehjem. “While we are confident we have reviewed all the files of the church, I remind anyone who has been a victim of clergy abuse that they can contact my office and we will review those allegations.”

Victims of clergy sexual abuse can submit a report to the Attorney General’s office via email to ndag@nd.gov or by leaving a message on the agency’s toll free tip line, 1-800-472-2185. Victims will need to provide their name and contact information so investigators can follow up.

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