NEW ULM — Three new priests from the Diocese of New Ulm with ties to Mankato-area parishes have been named in sexual abuse lawsuits.
Revs. Bernard Steiner, Richard Gross and Edward Ardolf have been named in civil lawsuits brought under the Minnesota Child Victims Act, according to Jeff Anderson and Associates, a St. Paul law firm. The law allows survivors of child sexual abuse to bring cases without having to worry about the statute of limitations.
All three priests were ordained in the Diocese of New Ulm in the 1960s and worked at one time in churches in the Mankato area. All three are still alive and had not been named before Friday.
In late March, the Diocese of New Ulm and Jeff Anderson and Associates jointly released the names of 16 priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor while assigned as priests.
Mike Finnegan, an attorney with the firm, said the release of the list led to one of the lawsuits, while the firm was in the process of filing the other two when the list was released.
"They're looking for validation that this happened and to make sure that other people out there know that all three of these guys abused them as kids," Finnegan said.
The victims also want to hold the diocese and parishes accountable for the harm they suffered, he said. "They found the strength to break the silence, and that's the real triumph here," he said.
The civil complaints criticize the church's culture, saying the environment created "pressure" not to report the abuse.
"Defendants knew or should have known that Fr. Ardolf was a danger to children before Fr. Ardolf sexually molested (victim)," one complaint reads.
All the lawsuits are seeking more than $50,000 each in relief and name the diocese as well as specific churches as defendants. Here's a look at the specifics:
- Steiner was ordained in 1964 and worked in several parishes in southern and west-central Minnesota, including Springfield, Lafayette, Winthrop, Comfrey, Madison and Henderson. He retired from active ministry in 2005. The alleged abuse happened at the Church of St. Paul in Comfrey from about 1971-72 when the victim was 9 to 10 years old.
- Gross was ordained in 1962 and worked in parishes in New Ulm, Taunton, Rosen, Hutchinson and Watkins. He retired from ministry in 2003. The alleged abuse occurred at St. Mary's parish in New Ulm from about 1965-66 when the victim was about 12 to 13 years old.
- Ardolf was ordained in 1964 and retired from active ministry in 2012. He worked in several parishes and schools in Winsted, New Ulm (including Cathedral High School), North Mankato (including Loyola High School), Springfield, Canby, St. Leo, Sleepy Eye and Nicollet. The alleged abuse occurred at St. Raphael’s in Springfield from 1978-80 when the victim was 7 to 10 years old.
None of three victims has yet agreed to speak publicly, Finnegan said.
In a statement, the Diocese of New Ulm said it continues to encourage victims to come forward with claims and contact the diocese for counseling and spiritual healing.
Parishioners and Catholic school families are being informed of the lawsuits, which the diocese said are not expected to affect "the normal operations of parishes or Catholic schools in the diocese."
"The bishop, diocesan staff, and parish leaders are seeking a fair resolution to claims while allowing for the continuation of the work of the church in our communities," the statement said.
The deadline to file a civil legal claim under the Minnesota Child Victims Act is May 25. Finnegan said lawyers anticipate more priests in the Diocese of New Ulm will be named, something that has happened in other dioceses after the release of lists. The Diocese of New Ulm was the last one in the state to release its list.