It was a day of reckoning for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fargo as names were made public of those credibly accused of sexually abusing minors.
The Fargo Diocese identified 31 church leaders who have had credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. Bishop John Folda released the list of names after a thorough review and audit of clergy files, according to a release issued about the abuse. The diocese declined any interviews, yet Folda issued a video statement that talked about forgiveness and healing for the church.
All those identified have either died or are no longer at the diocese.
Digging back to the 1950s, the release said 19 of the accused were either priests, deacons or bishops at the Fargo Diocese when the abuse happened. The list includes only those credibly accused of abusing minors. The diocese did not name any priests who abused adult church members. The list showed that most of the incidents transpired during the 1970s with nearly 40 substantiated allegations of sexual abuse involving minors.
The list of clergy and religious who have credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor was published on the Diocese of Fargo website Thursday at www.fargodiocese.org, as well as in the January issue of the diocesan publication, New Earth, scheduled to be delivered to Catholic households the first week of January.
Not listed was the Rev. Thomas Feltman, who served St. John the Baptist Catholic Church of Wyndmere and St. Arnold’s Catholic Church of Milnor. Feltman was investigated by both the diocese and the Richland County Sheriff’s Office over his interaction with youth. In July 2017, the Richland County State’s Attorney’s Office said it would not pursue criminal charges against the Catholic priest.
Prior to the investigation in 2017, Feltman was placed on paid administrative leave from both parishes. Now-former State’s Attorney Ron McBeth issued a report that said Feltman would go to hug young women, and his hand would allegedly touch the women on the side of their breast or on their behind.
The release did not list where the priests were serving the diocese when the abuse happened. No member of the clergy with a substantiated allegation of abuse of a minor is currently in ministry in the Fargo Diocese, Folda said.
“It is my hope that this release of names will open the way to a purification of our church, especially in our own diocese,” Folda said. “We all know the experience of grace that comes with the confession of sins, and I pray that our diocese will experience a similar outpouring of grace through acknowledgement of these sinful acts by those in positions of authority.”
The review team looked at 1,000 files.
“I want to assure everyone that the safety of our children and families is — and will remain — a priority for the Diocese of Fargo,” Folda said. “I ask you to keep in your prayers everyone who may be affected by this matter and our church.”
A substantiated allegation is one for which sufficient corroborating evidence establishes reasonable grounds to believe the alleged abuse occurred. Substantiated is not equivalent to conviction in a court of law.
Several factors can lead to substantiation, including the accused having admitted to the conduct in whole or in part, first-hand and consistent testimony from the victim that included knowledge about the alleged offender and relevant circumstances that he or she would have been unlikely to know if the allegation had not occurred, evidence such as witnesses, documents, emails, photos, etc., multiple independent allegations which manifest similar patterns, prior grooming behaviors with sexual content and the results of a comprehensive civil, criminal, or canonical (church law) trial.