In statement, Baumgartner says diocese was unaware of any allegations against priest
At a news conference Thursday in the lobby of the Polk County Justice Center in Crookston, sexual abuse attorney Jeff Anderson announced the filing of a lawsuit on behalf of a man known as "Doe 19."
Anderson, along with Lonna Hunter, an advocate for Native children, told the story of Doe 19, whom they said was sexually abused by Father James Vincent Fitzgerald at St. Anne's Parish in Naytahwaush. The lawsuit names the Diocese of Crookston and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate alleging their negligence in placing Fitzgerald in parishes and communities where he had access to children even after learning that Fitzgerald was a child molester. This is the first time Fitzgerald's name has been publicly released in Minnesota.
Fitzgerald, who is now deceased, was employed by the Diocese of Crookston from 1973 to 1978. During this time, he allegedly abused a minor male. The lawsuit claims the defendants knew or should have known about the abuse. The Diocese of Crookston placed Fitzgerald at St. Anne's Parish on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Naytahwaush in the mid-1980s. Doe 19 claims the abuse happened in 1984 when he was between 8 and 9-years-old.
The current lawsuit, along with another involving "Jane Doe 4" of Bemidji and the late Father James Porter, requests the release of names of credibly accused and admitted child molesters from the Diocese of Crookston. The Diocese allegedly compiled a list of five priests who had credible accusations of abuse against them.
In response to the lawsuit, a statement Thursday from Vicar General David Baumgartner claims that Father Fitzgerald was not on the list of accused priests.
"Like anyone, we are appalled by the allegations made today, particularly as they have been lodged against a member of the clergy who was entrusted with caring for the spiritual well-being of his parishioners and especially the most valuable members of his congregation. We stand with all who want the facts of this matter known and justice done," Baumgartner said in the statement.
He went on to say, "Prior to the commencement of this lawsuit, the Diocese was unaware of any allegations against Father J. Vincent Fitzgerald, who served as parish priest at St. Anne's Parish in Naytahwaush from 1983 to 1986. To the best of our knowledge, Father Fitzgerald was never accused of nor investigated for any allegations of misconduct during his time serving our Diocese."
Father Fitzgerald also had a 2010 lawsuit against him and three others claiming abuse at the Tekakwitha Orphanage on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation. There are currently four known victims that have accused Fitzgerald of abuse on three separate Indian reservations.