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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