A lawsuit filed Thursday in Minneapolis alleges that Catholic church authorities in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Archdiocese knew that a priest in their employ was dangerous to children, but took no action and continued to allow him access to minors.
According to a report by Laura Yuen of Minnesota Public Radio, Rev. Jerome Kern — not the theatrical composer of the same name — is the latest Catholic priest to be named in the widening Minneapolis-St. Paul clerical sex abuse scandal.
St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson filed the lawsuit Thursday morning on behalf of an anonymous plaintiff who is referred to as Plaintiff Doe 26. The man is now in his 50s and accuses Kern of serially molesting him in a pattern of abuse that began in the 1970s when he was 12 years old. Plaintiff Doe 26 claims that church authorities had knowledge that Kern was a sexual predator and yet allowed him to teach classes and spend time unsupervised with young children.
For three decades, Kern ministered to the Catholic faithful in the Twin Cities in spite of the fact that at least two families lodged complaints with the church about him with the archbishop and with the St. Paul police. The earliest reports date to 1969, before Kern reportedly molested Plaintiff Doe 26.
Jamie Heutmaker, now 58, was one of the boys Kern was accused of fondling inappropriately. He spoke to the media on Thursday about a swimming trip that several boys took with the priest to Lake Nokomis, during which the priest allegedly touched the boys’ genitals under the water.
When he was reported, the priest denied any lascivious intent, saying that he and the boys were engaging in “Italian wrestling,” in which opponents purportedly grab each other’s sex organs.
Rather than seek treatment for Kern or report him to the police, the archbishop and his advisers simply transferred the priest to another district, in an all-too-familiar pattern of concealment of the truth and enablement of the abusers that Catholic church officials practiced with impunity for decades.
Heutmaker is not Plaintiff Doe 26, but says that he came forward to demand that the church he grew up in stop the cycle of abuse.
“I’ve been hearing and seeing this happened for 45 years since it occurred, and I’ve seen nothing changed,” he said to reporters. “I’m hoping that we can stop this and save some children from going through what we all did.”
In spite of lawsuits, admissions of wrongdoing on Kern’s part and awareness by the church of Kern’s inability to control himself with young boys, Kern remained in active ministry until 2002. He is currently 72 years old and reports to a church-run program for problem priests.
Listen to Laura Yuen’s report, embedded below via Minnesota Public Radio:
[image of priest in handcuffs via Shutterstock.com]