(Star Tribune) Catholic Church officials will hold a public meeting Sunday to air allegations that a prominent Minnesota child welfare advocate sexually abused two boys around the time he served as a deacon at a St. Cloud church more than 40 years ago.
Michael W. Weber has resigned from the board of directors at the Greater Twin Cities United Way and other positions since the Diocese of St. Cloud announced in November it would hold the “listening session.”
Weber, 67, served as a deacon at Church of the Holy Spirit from 1969-70, when the abuse allegedly occurred. St. Cloud diocesan officials say they scheduled the meeting because the allegations were deemed credible. Media will not be allowed to attend.
Jane Marrin, a spokeswoman for the diocese, says church officials feel “a great sadness anyone has to have been living with such a hurtful experience for so many years” and want to do “what we can do pastorally to help them at this point … providing counseling, doing the listening session, certainly a public apology.”
Criminal charges have not been filed against Weber, but reports of the abuse have been filed with St. Cloud police and sheriff’s officials in Benton and Crow Wing counties. Charges against Weber aren’t likely because the criminal statute of limitations has expired, authorities say.
Minneapolis attorney Francis Rondoni, who represents Weber, said Wednesday he had not yet read the reports.
“What I can tell you is we are confident there’s not going to be any criminal charges here,” Rondoni said. “It is very difficult to respond to purported allegations that are more than 40 years old. He has been a leader in the community here for many decades and has a spotless reputation. And this is very concerning to him.”
Marrin said since the listening session was announced in mid-November, the diocese has received more complaints against Weber, though she did not give a number. Patrick Marker, creator of a website that tracks accusations of clergy misconduct, said he’s aware of at least nine alleged victims.
Weber 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 Minnesota Department of Human Services.
Besides the United Way position, Weber also resigned as chairman of the board of Rainbow Research in Minneapolis and stepped down as a volunteer mentor in the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship at College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.
“Our students’ safety is our first priority. … Neither the university nor the college has received any calls or complaints from students or alumni alleging misconduct by Mr. Weber,” a St. John’s statement said.
The United Way said in a statement none “of the allegations involved Greater Twin Cities United Way — past or present.” Weber served on the board about two years. Barry Cohen, executive director at Rainbow Research, said Weber served as board chairman since 2007 but resigned in an e-mail. This past spring, Weber resigned as president and CEO of Volunteers of America-Minnesota, a position he’d held since 1997.
On Nov. 8, two men reported to officials that they were molested by Weber.
A St. Cloud resident by the name of Dave reported to Crow Wing County sheriff’s officials he was molested by Weber in 1969, when he was 11. Weber, who was attending seminary at St. John’s, was acting as a big brother-like mentor to Dave’s cousin Rick. According to the police report, Weber took the boys and two other children on a fishing trip to a cabin in Crow Wing. At bedtime, Dave said he went to sleep on a top bunk bed but woke up to find Weber fondling him, the report said.
“It freaked me out so bad I didn’t know what to do,” Dave said in an interview this week. He declined to give his last name to protect his family’s privacy. “So I just forced myself to black out. That’s the only thing I knew to do. I didn’t want to be there. It was so horrific.”
Dave’s cousin Rick also filed a report of abuse on Nov. 8. He also declined to give his last name for privacy reasons.
The report said that Weber took him to a hockey game. Instead of bringing him home to St. Cloud afterward, Weber drove to Weber’s parents home in Foley. Rick said Weber took him to a room with one bed, where they both slept and Weber fondled him.
“That’s when I pretended like I was sleeping,” Rick said in an interview. “I didn’t scream or nothing like that. Then it was all over.”
Rick said he told his junior high school counselor about the incident. The counselor then referred him to another counselor who worked for the diocese, Rick said.
“I never saw Mike Weber again. He never called, he never said nothing,” he said.
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. But Rick says he believes the diocese and St. John’s did know about the allegations but chose not to report it to the police.
Dave said he reported the abuse to diocesan officials around 2004, and church officials gave him $2,000, but he did not go to police authorities then. In 2009, Marrin said a diocesan official who deals with reports of clergy sex abuse reported to St. Cloud police claims of abuse against Weber dating back about 40 years.
Both Rick and Dave say they chose to report their abuse to authorities now because they’re seeking healing and want other potential victims to come forward. Police say because the abuse happened more than 40 years ago, it’s probably too late to pursue criminal charges.
“I think their [Rick’s and Dave’s] main concern was they held this in all these years and … it does give a sense of healing to be able to report it,” said D.J. Downie, investigator with Crow Wing Sheriff’s Office. “They found out this man was holding positions in the community that were concerning. So they wanted to basically get the word out.”
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St. Cloud Diocese to air allegations of 1969 sex abuse
December 2, 2011
Rose French • 612-673-4352