MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest accused of molesting several boys while claiming he was “horsing around” said leaders in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis allowed him to remain near children for years, even though parents had complained about his conduct as early as 1969, according to documents released Tuesday.
The documents also show that after a lawsuit was filed against the Rev. Jerome Kern in 1993, church leaders who knew about allegations against Kern chose to leave him in a Minnetonka parish, and assured parents he wasn’t a risk. That lawsuit was later settled.
The redacted documents were made public Tuesday by attorneys for a man who claims Kern sexually abused him in the 1970s, when the man was 12 to 16 years old. They were released as part of a lawsuit filed last year that alleges the church created a public nuisance by keeping information about accused priests secret.
The attorneys also released a sworn deposition by Kern, in which Kern admits to touching at least one boy’s genitals, over his swimming suit, while in a busy swimming pool. Kern denied touching several others in a sexual way and said he thought wrestling, horsing around, or “jostling” with youth was legitimate recreation.
“At that time I thought it was appropriate, you know,” Kern said. “Now I realize it’s not.”
He added: “I never thought of it as sexual.”
Kern’s attorney didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment, and a spokesman for the archdiocese said the deposition stands on its own.
Jeff Anderson, an attorney for victims, said he has identified roughly 20 people who say they were abused by Kern. He said Kern is a “multiple serial offender who could not control his urges, who operates largely in denial.”
He said it’s disturbing that church officials made a conscious choice to keep Kern in ministry.
The documents, which include letters from parents and memos from church leaders, show church officials first received complaints about Kern in 1969. Other documents show a psychologist did not believe Kern was a risk.
Kern said in his deposition that he had not been restricted or prevented from being around children until 2002, when he was removed from active ministry. He said no church leaders told him that he should stop his behavior and no one suggested he was committing a crime.
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