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Paynesville Press - July 3, 2002

Diocese, priest face lawsuit

By Michael Jacobson

The Diocese of St. Cloud has received a lawsuit filed by Wayne Eller against the diocese, the Church of St. Anthony of Padua in St. Cloud, and one of the parish's former pastors, Father James Thoennes. The lawsuit, filed June 24, alleges that Father Thoennes sexually abused Eller in the 1960s. The diocese is reviewing the lawsuit.

St. Cloud Bishop John F. Kinney recently held listening and information sessions at four parishes in the 16-county Diocese of St. Cloud on the topic of clergy sexual misconduct. At those sessions and in other statements, Bishop Kinney has made clear his primary concern for the "care and protection of our young people."

He has also stated his great desire for victims of abuse to come forward. Last week, Bishop Kinney reiterated those wishes, saying, "We do want victims to come forward. If anyone else is out there, we want them to come forward."

"The whole reason we held listening sessions, the whole reason the U.S. bishops approved the ‘Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People' last week, the whole reason the bishops of our province approved a tough Provincial Review Process earlier this month, is to better protect our children and young people," added Bishop Kinney.

To implement the "Charter for The Protection of Children and Young People," Bishop Kinney sent letters to three priests of the Diocese of St. Cloud on June 19, informing them that they were being removed from priestly ministry.

Father James Thoennes was one of those priests. Furthermore, Father Thoennes had already been removed from priestly ministry in 1993 when allegations of abuse first surfaced. Thoennes is not allowed to represent or identify himself as a priest in any way, wear clerical clothing, celebrate Mass publicly, or perform any other priestly ministry.

He currently works within the diocesan chancery archives in a supervised setting that does not involve contact with minors, the diocese reported.

Father Thoennes was ordained in 1964, and served in the following assignments: from 1964-67 at St. Anthony of Padua in St. Cloud; from 1967-68 at St. Mary in Melrose; from 1968-70 at St. Joseph in Waite Park; from 1970-71 at St. John in Foley; from 1971-77 at St. Anne in Kimball; from 1978-82 at St. Leonard in Pelican Rapids; from 1985-87 at St. Joseph in Bertha and at St. Isadore in Moran; from 1987-93 at St. Joseph in Bertha and at St. Edward in Henning; in 1993 as Chaplain of St. Mary's Villa Nursing Home in Pierz; and from 1994 to the present in the diocesan chancery archives in St. Cloud.

The vicar general of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Father Marvin Enneking, said he would meet with members of the St. Anthony of Padua parish community in St. Cloud to discuss the abuse allegations. "The Diocese of St. Cloud has had a strong diocesan Sexual Misconduct Policy in place since 1991, and has followed it to the letter in this incident," said Father Enneking, who is in charge of administering, reviewing, and strengthening the policy.

The current policy is available to the public online at www.stclouddiocese.org.

"If anyone has been a victim of abuse by clergy, we encourage them to come forward in any way they feel comfortable -- by contacting law enforcement, a counselor, one of our trained victim advocates, or by contacting me directly," added Father Enneking. Victim requested confidentiality is assured. Victim advocates are: Dolores Saurer (218-736-3592); Karen Becker (320-650-1656); Father Timothy Baltes (320-251-4831); Maxine Barnett (320-253-6900); Colleen Donlin (320-252-3594); Father Patrick Riley (320-650-1660); Nancy Fandel (320-685-7507); Tom Klecker (320-253-2866); and Father Marvin Enneking (320-251-2340; 320-529-8842).

Last week, Bishop Kinney reiterated his previous public statement that "sexual misconduct will not be tolerated. Our diocese has sought to be, and will continue to be, proactive in addressing this issue -- by improving safety, abiding by civil laws, offering healing when necessary, and adopting approaches that enhance the church's hallmarks of justice and charity."



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