ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A newly released police file shows a Minnesota priest remained in ministry even after church leaders learned he had searched online for sexual images of children.
St. Paul police released documents Tuesday in the case of the Rev. Jonathan Shelley, who was investigated for possible child porn possession. The case was closed last month without charges after prosecutors said they found no evidence of a crime.
The Shelley case is among several that raised questions about the way the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis handled abuse cases after a church insider went public with her concerns last year.
Pornographic photos were discovered on Shelley’s old computer by a former parishioner who had been given the laptop in 2004 when the parish was about to discard it. He gave that laptop to his son, who discovered the images, made copies of what he found and alerted the archdiocese.
An investigator for the archdiocese then employed a private forensics expert to examine the computer.
The file released this week includes a report by that forensic examiner. He said he found no images on Shelley’s hard drive that could be clearly identified as child pornography, but that he found several search terms aimed at finding images of boys, including “free naked boys.” The examiner’s report was given to an investigator hired by the archdiocese.
The investigator judged some of the images found to be “borderline” illegal, according to church memos. But the archdiocese, led then by Archbishop Harry Flynn, didn’t bring the images to police.
That happened years later, only after canon lawyer Jennifer Haselberger had discovered the disks and wrote to Archbishop John Nienstedt about her concerns. Haselberger eventually quit her job and notified police in February 2013. Shelley was put on a leave of absence two months later.
Archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso didn’t respond Wednesday to a question about why Shelley remained in ministry after the forensic examiner’s report was made. In a statement, he stressed that Shelley had been “exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing” and that no illegal images had been found on the computer hard drive.
“Fr. Shelley was put on a leave of absence at the conclusion of his sabbatical in April 2013,” Accurso said by email. “He remains on a leave of absence and is not involved in any ministry while the archdiocese continues to review this matter.”
An attorney for Shelley was in court Wednesday and didn’t immediately return a phone message.
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