(Star Tribune) ST. CLOUD, MINN. – Expressing anger and frustration, people who say they were abused as children nearly 40 years ago by a former deacon and prominent child welfare advocate shared their stories Sunday during an unusual “listening session” arranged by Catholic church officials in St. Cloud.
Four alleged victims attended the meeting at Church of the Holy Spirit and recounted abuse by Michael W. Weber, now 67, who served as a deacon at the church from 1969-70. According to Jane Marrin, a spokeswoman for the diocese, a fifth purported victim was represented by someone else at the meeting and a sixth wrote a letter claiming abuse that was noted at the meeting.
The gathering, which is rare but not unprecedented for a Catholic diocese, comes at a time when unpunished child sexual abuse by adults in positions of authority has been much in the public consciousness, especially after allegations against a former assistant football coach at Penn State University.
About 35 people attended the meeting, including family members of alleged victims as well as area Catholics.
“We understand that this is a very hurtful experience to live with all these years,” said Marrin after the four-hour meeting, which was not open to the media. “It’s a first step for us in trying to help them deal with this experience and how we can move forward from here.”
Marrin said the diocese’s vicar general, the Rev. Robert Rolfes, read a letter on behalf of Bishop John Kinney apologizing to victims for any abuse they may have experienced.
She said the diocese plans to hold another listening session at the church on Dec. 19.
Diocesan officials have said they scheduled the meetings because the allegations were deemed credible.
A St. Cloud resident named Dave who reported to police in November that he was abused by Weber in 1969, when he was 11, said the meeting was a good first step toward healing, but added that he and other victims believe the diocese knew or should have known about Weber’s reported behavior.
“It’s frustrating, but we’re happy something is being done, because this is new for everyone involved,” Dave said. “It’s a stepping stone to continued healing and bringing some justice and restoration to both the victims and their families. That’s hopefully what can come out of this.”
Reports of the abuse have been filed with St. Cloud police and sheriff’s officials in Benton and Crow Wing counties but charges aren’t likely because the statute of limitations has expired, authorities say.
Minneapolis attorney Francis Rondoni, who represents Weber, said last week that he had recommended to Weber that he not attend the listening session.
“It is very difficult to respond to purported allegations that are more than 40 years old,” Rondoni said last week. Weber “has been a leader in the community here for many decades and has a spotless reputation. And this is very concerning to him.”
Rondoni said he is “confident” no charges will be filed.
Patrick Marker, creator of a website that tracks accusations of clergy misconduct, has said he’s aware of nine alleged victims. He also attended Sunday’s listening session.
Weber, now a Twin Cities resident, resigned from the board of the Greater Twin Cities United Way and other positions after the diocese announced the listening sessions in November.
He has served as associate director and acting executive director of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse. He is past director of Hennepin County Community Services Department and was an assistant commissioner in the state Department of Human Services.
Besides the United Way position, Weber also resigned as chairman of the board of Rainbow Research in Minneapolis and as a volunteer mentor in the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.
Marrin said Weber was nearing priestly ordination around the time of the alleged abuse, when he asked to leave the seminary. She said she’s not aware of any reports of abuse at the time.
Buffalo residents Tim Cady and his wife, Mary, said they attended Sunday’s gathering because they’re “concerned for the church.” Neither is a victim, nor do they know victims.
But “we would like to be involved in some way,” said Tim Cady. “We’re not here just out of curiosity. We’re here because we love the church. We’re concerned for the church and we’re concerned first for the victims.”
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A chance to air allegations of abuse
December 4, 2011