Fridley pastor on leave during police investigation

| February 20, 2016 | 16 Comments

Editor’s note: Updates throughout

The pastor of St. William in Fridley remains on leave from ministry while he is the subject of an Edina Police Department investigation.

In a Feb. 19 statement, Archbishop Bernard Hebda announced that Father Timothy Dolan, 60, is involved in a police investigation and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Office of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment is cooperating with police.

Jennifer Bennerotte, spokesperson for Edina Police, confirmed that the Edina police are investigating Father Dolan after receiving a call regarding suspicious activity Dec. 31. She said the archdiocese has been “very cooperative.”

St. William parishioners were notified in a Feb. 19 letter signed “parish staff and trustees.” Archdiocesan representatives, including Tim O’Malley, director of ministerial standards and safe environment, met with parish leaders Feb. 19 and parishioners Feb. 20-21. Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens celebrated Feb. 21 Masses at the parish.

A warrant and affidavit filed by Edina police Feb. 19 reveal that Father Dolan is being investigated after neighbors reported several instances of hearing a child “in distress” in the priest’s Edina residence.

Cooperating with police

Edina police met with archdiocesan leaders Feb. 6. O’Malley said police asked the archdiocese not to take actions that would interfere with the investigation, including immediately putting the priest on leave or notifying the parish.

On Feb. 18, Edina police informed the archdiocese that they had spoken to Father Dolan, and the archdiocese was able to take certain actions. Police asked O’Malley and Archbishop Hebda, the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator, not to “unnecessarily highlight” the nature of the criminal investigation. The pair met with Father Dolan that evening and the priest agreed to take a leave of absence.

“Father Dolan’s leave included restrictions that met the archdiocese’s commitment to the safety of children,” O’Malley said in a Feb. 20 statement.

The warrant filed late the following day revealed that police searched Father Dolan’s home Feb. 18.

When archdiocesan leaders notified the parish Feb. 19, “We intentionally did not disclose the nature of the investigation, as requested by the Edina Police Department,” O’Malley said in the statement. “Again, the decision regarding the nature of the leave of absence and the level of public disclosure was made in full cooperation and consultation with law enforcement.”

The nature of the investigation became public, however, with the warrant and affidavit filing. Based in part on information in the documents previously unknown to archdiocesan leadership, and after O’Malley consulted with Edina police, archdiocesan leaders placed new restrictions on Father Dolan’s leave, including prohibition from wearing a Roman collar or presenting himself as a priest.

Outlining protocols

In meetings with parishioners and the Feb. 20 statement, O’Malley emphasized that the archdiocese’s steps were in accord with its safe environment protocols.

“When law enforcement contacted us, we cooperated fully and provided them with any information we might have had that might be relevant,” he told The Catholic Spirit Feb. 25. Archdiocesan leadership also explained their protocols to police.

When a priest is accused of child abuse or possessing child pornography, it is the archdiocese’s policy to remove him from ministry immediately and publicly announce his leave. That protocol addresses public safety and encourages people with information, or other alleged victims, to come forward.

“However, one of our protocols that trumps that [remove and announce policy] is that we will not take any actions that would interfere with law enforcement efforts,” O’Malley said, “and in this case, in that first meeting I explained our protocols to them and said our preference is to take those actions, and they instructed us not to.”

O’Malley said he trusts law enforcement prioritized the safety of children when asking the archdiocese to postpone placing Father Dolan on leave. He also said that at the request of the Edina Police Department, he is not talking about the nature of the investigation until police have finished their work on the case.

O’Malley noted in his Feb. 20 statement that Father Dolan is presumed innocent, and he urged people not to jump to uninformed conclusions. He also asked anyone with relevant information to contact the Edina Police Department.

The archdiocese plans to conduct an investigation after law enforcement advises it can do so without interfering with the police investigation. The Ministerial Review Board will analyze the results before making a recommendation to O’Malley, who will then make a recommendation to the archbishop.

Father Dolan was ordained in 1983 and has ministered at St. William for two years. While on leave, he remains pastor of the parish but has no authority to act in parish operations. The archdiocese appointed Father Joseph Whalen as St. William’s parochial administrator Feb. 24 and has arranged to make sacraments available at the parish during Father Dolan’s leave.

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  • Nancy Ahlgren

    The contents of the search warrant was accessible to the Star Tribune reporter. The article revealed the Edina PD investigators met with the Archdiocese staff on February 6 and that Tim O’Malley directed Rev Dolan to have no contact with minors,

    “Tim O’Malley, director of the ministerial standards office, had met with the priest, the search warrant request says, and “made it very clear” that he was not allowed to have any children in his home unless they were direct relatives, or to meet with any children unless their parents gave consent, according to the request.” []

    yet the parishioners at St. William were not informed until Friday, February 19th? How is the Archdiocese more transparent and making greater effort to protect children?

    The Edina PD met with the Archdiocese on Feb 6th and another neighbor filed a police report on Feb 8th regarding Fr. Dolan’s residence and a child heard to be in distress. A judge can be awakened to sign a search warrant. When was the search warrant issued, one has to ask?

    When Tim O’Malley gave directives to Rev. Dolan is when the faithful ought to have been notified.
    That does not interfere with an investigation of child porn on computers or if the content was received across state lines or from other countries — but it does alert adults to assist in protecting children.

    If Dolan was unaware of the investigation prior to Feb 6th he was well aware once O’Malley spoke to him so there was no need to keep it from the faithful and parents of children with whom Dolan crossed paths.

    • Nancy A

      The updated information helps to clarify the situation greatly, yet there remains some confusion:

      If the Archdiocese and the Edina Police were in agreement that the priest needed to be removed from the parish and have his faculties suspended, then there seems little logic in “minimizing the likelihood that the nature of the investigation would be apparent” for the sake of the investigation.

      Either there is cause to remove the priest or there is not.

      If the news outlets are going to be revealing publicly accessible information then the Archdiocese ought to be reaching out to the faithful first. That which is going to be brought into the Light will not be able to be kept hidden. We all assume a person is innocent until proven guilty. Once faculties are reinstated, then that fact ought to be clearly and quickly communicated as well.

  • JO

    ‘I want to assure the Catholic faithful and the public that we have fully complied with our Safe Environment protocols.”

    Among those protocols, he said, is that the archdiocese “will not interfere in any way with law enforcement until law enforcement concludes its investigation, closes its file without an investigation, or authorizes the archdiocese to take action.”’

    Isn’t the context of “not interfere in any way with law enforcement” in reference to interfering with evidence like in the past when the Archdiocese collected computers and guns from priests or warned the priest the police were on their way to collect their computers and not addressing removing the priest as soon as a police report is filed and an investigation begun? So once the Archdiocese was told the police began their investigation after a complaint was filed on December 31, couldn’t they have stated he was removed from ministry because a accusation was made against him and a police investigation is underway? Isn’t that why Archbishop Nienstedt stepped down for a while?

  • Karen

    I am bothered by the fact the priest was told he could not have minors in his home “unless they are direct relatives.” How is that OK? Many instances of child sexual abuse occurs within families. Child predictors go after the easiest target, whether or not that child happens to be a relative. How about creating safe environments for ALL children, not just those unrelated to the priest?

  • Nancy

    Rule 33.04Filing(a) Search warrants and search warrant applications, affidavits, and inventories – including statements of unsuccessful execution – and documents required to be served must be filed with the court administrator….

    (b) Search warrants and related documents need not be filed until after execution of the search or the expiration of ten days, unless this rule directs otherwise.

    (c) The prosecutor may request that a ….. search warrant, supporting documents, and any order granting the request not be filed, or be filed under seal.

  • Mike Johnson

    Amen – All great comments about yet another lie from our “transparent” Archdiocese. I know they are lying to us and they always will lie to us and I don’t like it.
    I am having a hard time believing that more Catholics are not upset about this cover-up and all the rest of them over the years.. Do you like being lied to? Maybe you do.
    To do nothing is acceptance – do you accept this? We can do something and that’s quit giving them money. The fact is that they need us more than we need them under these conditions. I guess if all of you apathetic Catholics really cared, then you would quit supporting them and demand action and change would happen in a hurry. These men, and they are only men, rape children and keep kiddie porn on computers, they lie about it and then you give them money!! Jesus threw the moneymakers out of the temple, he didn’t say to give it to the do-nothing Pope.
    I leave you with this question – if you are Catholics and Christians and truly believe in sin and forgiveness, then is it a sin to give money to such an organization? I know without a doubt that it is.

    • JO

      It appears more than a coincidence that nothing was announced and transparent about this latest priest being investigated when it occurred smack dab in the middle of the Catholic Services Appeal drive, where much of the donations are given to Archdiocesan divisions (evangelization, marriage, family and life, etc.) and which the archdiocese does not need to figure into nor account for in their budget and bankruptcy.

      • Mike Johnson

        Now THAT I believe! They are worse than even I can imagine if that’s even possible. I didn’t realize it was the Catholic Appeal time – my wife and I give a very sizable amount of money every year to charities but not to anything connected to the Catholic Church because of the continued lies and cover-ups. We now give to credible/reliable institutions instead.

    • James Moore

      I agree with you Mike.

  • DebraBrunsberg

    It is so typical that when people have only a few of the facts of something, they immediately turn it into their own presumption of wrongdoing by the Archdiocese. Not having any information as to the progression of things between the Police Department and the Archdiocese Offices, or conversations that took place or what anyone was told to do or not to do, (maybe to not allow the priest to divest himself of any evidence prior to a search warrant,) I find it interesting that so many have already determined grave wrongdoing by the Archdiocese. I would sure hate to have any of the parties commenting here on my jury if I was suspected of a crime. I am sure they wouldn’t even need to hear the case in order to determine guilt or innocence, they just have to read the Strib, that bastion of objective reporting. 🙂

    • JO

      Yes, but the Strib quotes the actual search warrant, filed by the police department, which states

      people filed a complaint that a child was heard crying and seemingly in distress,
      the priest admitted to watching pornography,
      the police met with the archdiocesan staff on February 6th – thus the investigation was already underway – and
      the search warrant, if filed on February 19th, as stated by Mr. O’Malley, had to have been executed within 10 days from the judge signing the order for the warrant and the filing of that warrant.

      If Archbishop Nienstedt had to step down when a mere accusation was waged and an investigation initiated and communicated within a day or two, why was the announcement of this priest being investigated not made until the Strib published the article?

      Part of transparency is allowing questions and not shaming people for asking them. We are all in this to protect children, aren’t we? Let us not rest but instead continue to analyze, troubleshoot and improve how we do things.

    • Mike Johnson

      So you have all of the facts and know he didn’t have kiddie porn on his computer then? No, because the Archdiocese didn’t give you any information about it either. My pre-judgements based on facts and statistics of their past behavior. Even if I guessed I’d be right 9 out of 10 times.

      Since you are eager to defend them and knock the media, have you seen Spotlight yet? There’s a movie the Archdiocese doesn’t tell you to see is it? That was the Boston Globe, not the Strib, and they found 18% of the priest in Boston alone were molesting children. That pesky media always trying to expose the truth about Holy Pedophiles!

      Its hard to be objective about the Archdiocese/Vatican since they waited a year+ to defrock Curtis Wehmeyer, lifted a ban on Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul so he could still be a priest after he was convicted for raping a MN girl and the Archdiocese going to court over and over to block releasing names of priests that have raped children. I also know a person raped by a priest and it was covered up. Sorry if I am not so trusting in the Archdiocese for not telling us about another priest with kiddie porn on his computer (alleged)….

      • Bernie Troje

        Do the math. Seventy out of 1500 priests is not 18%. If the facts are important, keep them accurate.

        • Mike Johnson

          Looks like I don’t have the math problem – where are you getting only 70? In 2003, 219 priests and other clergy were accused and by 2015, it was at least 271. So, 271/1500 = 18%. I guess what’s more scary is defending any of it or the priests who kept silent. Silence does means acceptance.

  • Nancy Ahlgren

    I appreciate the further updates to this article so that information pertinent to the quotes used by the Star Tribune from the search warrant and questions raised here were answered more fully. Thanks to Tim O’Malley and the Edina Police Department investigators for helping us to better understand and put some of our concerns to rest.

  • Woody

    Another priest molesting children? Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! Why is it that priests always get away with this? And then are just passed off to another parish? Why isn’t he put in prison like the Penn State coach, Jerry Sandusky who was found to have molested dozens of children? I could never become catholic knowing that their church lets this go on and does very little, or nothing to stop it. Let your priests get married so they at least have someone of the right age and right sex to stick it to.