NEW ULM — The Diocese of New Ulm has received 98 claims from victims of sexual abuse in the three years since the passage of a state law that temporarily lifted the civil statute of limitations for such claims.
Of the diocese's 75 parishes, 28 are named in lawsuits brought under the Minnesota Child Victims Act. The suits involve 15 priests.
In March, the Diocese of New Ulm became the last in the state to release the list of names of 16 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children.
The law has highlighted what Msgr. Douglas L. Grams described Wednesday as a "tragedy in this period of history for the church."
"We've had time to reflect and see it as a family experiencing a tragedy," Grams said.
On Wednesday, the last day to file civil claims under the act, the diocese held a day of prayer at all 75 parishes, which included a specific prayer for victims and survivors of sexual abuse. The prayer for healing and hope will be included in weekend services as well, Grams said.
The diocese continues to encourage all victims of sexual abuse to report it to local law enforcement immediately regardless of when it happened, Grams said.
While the first concern is taking care of people who have been hurt, the church is looking at what the lawsuits describe as a culture that allowed the abuse to fester, Grams said. Any allegations will be immediately reported and the priest removed from parish ministry, the diocese said, and parishioners and Catholic school families are being informed of the claims.
"It was such a taboo topic that people didn't want to talk about it," Grams said of the past culture, saying the "sensitive nature" of sexual abuse contributed to a secrecy.
The diocese is "looking at all options" for resolving claims, including bankruptcy reorganization, Grams said. But leaders "do not foresee any imminent decision" on the matter, a news release said. Thomas Wieser, a Minneapolis attorney who's representing the diocese, didn't return requests for comment on the suits.
On Tuesday, attorneys with Jeff Anderson & Associates accused the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis of sheltering more than $1 billion in assets to avoid payouts to abuse survivors as part of the church's bankruptcy case. Attorneys said the archdiocese has some $1.7 billion in assets — far more than the $49 million it lists in a filing this week.
Anderson's St. Paul law firm has filed hundreds of suits on behalf of people who claim they were sexually abused by priests.
On Tuesday in Brown County District Court, Minneapolis attorney Patrick Noaker filed two civil suits against the New Ulm Diocese.
Both allege abuse by the same priest, the Rev. Michael Skoblik, who is now deceased. One claims the victim was sexually abused by Skoblik at the Church of St. George in Glencoe between 1953 and 1966. The other alleges sexual abuse by Skoblik at the Church of St. Joseph in Silver Lake.
Since March, Skoblik has been named in three other civil lawsuits filed in Brown County District Court. They allege abuse at Holy Family Parish and St. Pius X Parish.
Another priest, the Rev. John Gleason, was accused in a civil suit filed Monday of sexually abusing a girl in 1970-72 while she was about 9-10 years old at St. Michael Catholic Church in Morgan. Some of the abuse occurred "in the parish rectory after bedtime," the civil complaint said.
"(The parish) also breached its duties to (the victim) by holding out clerics, including Gleason, as safe, moral and trustworthy people and by failing to warn (the victim) and her family of the risk that Gleason posed and the known risks of child sexual abuse by clerics in general," the complaint said.
The parish was "hiding a pedophile and engaging in a coverup of abuse perpetrated by Gleason," the complaint said.