INVESTIGATION OF CATHOLIC DIOCESES CONCLUDES

Staff Report

BISMARCK– Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has announced that the investigation by his office into allegations of child sexual abuse by members of the North Dakota Catholic Dioceses has concluded.

The eighteen month long criminal investigation commenced around the time the two North Dakota Catholic Dioceses, headquartered in Fargo and Bismarck, compiled and released a list of 53 individuals for whom they felt allegations of child sexual abuse had been substantiated. Stenehjem met with Bishops David Kagan and John Folda in June of 2019, and requested access to inspect all the records of the church relating to clergy abuse, and the Bishops agreed.

Stenehjem assigned four seasoned agents from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to the cases. The Dioceses cooperated with the Attorney General’s office in allowing the agents to review all complaints, records and files, including allegations for those not previously designated as “substantiated” by the Dioceses.

“I appreciate the cooperation we received from the Bishops in Fargo and Bismarck, and that the Dioceses gave the investigators full access to all of the files,” said Stenehjem.

The agents reviewed the files and victim reports, conducted interviews of several victims, and pursued new leads. Of the 53 named individuals, all but two had died by the time the BCI investigation commenced, several of them long ago. The two priests still living were Norman Dukart of Dickinson and John Owens, who originally resided in North Dakota but had moved to Minnesota. Owens died in October 2020, while the investigation was ongoing.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem announced that the investigation by his office into allegations of child sexual abuse by members of the North Dakota Catholic Dioceses has concluded. The eighteen month long criminal investigation commenced around the time the two North Dakota Catholic Dioceses, headquartered in Fargo and Bismarck, compiled and released a list of 53 individuals for whom they felt allegations of child sexual abuse had been substantiated. Stenehjem met with Bishops David Kagan and John Folda in June of 2019, and requested access to inspect all the records of the church relating to clergy abuse, and the Bishops agreed.

During their investigation, agents also pursued a lead that resulted in the identification of one new individual, Odo Muggli, as a likely perpetrator of child sexual abuse. Muggli is an Order of Saint Benedict priest at Assumption Abbey in Richardton, which is not under the jurisdiction of the Dioceses.

The allegations against Dukart and Muggli date back to the 1970s. The 2019 session of the legislature extended the statute of limitations for prosecution of sexual abuse crimes, however US Supreme Court rulings have held that once a statute of limitations has already expired, a criminal prosecution cannot be revived.

Assistant Attorneys General in the Criminal division of Stenehjem’s office reviewed the investigative reports and determined that probable cause existed that could have led to criminal charges being filed against the two surviving clergy for the alleged acts they committed. Unfortunately, the acts of abuse occurred so long ago that the statute of limitations has run. Therefore, neither Dukart nor Muggli can be charged criminally.

“I regret it will not be possible to have these men face their victims at a trial and face the potential consequences, but I hope it brings a measure of comfort to the victims that these crimes were eventually investigated,” said Stenehjem. “While we are confident we have reviewed all the files of the church, I remind anyone who has been a victim of clergy abuse that they can contact my office and we will review those allegations,” he continued.

Victims of clergy sexual abuse can submit a report to the Attorney General’s office via email to ndag@nd.gov or by leaving a message on the agency’s toll free tip line, 1-800-472-2185. Victims will need to provide their name and contact information so investigators can follow up.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  Follow him on Twitter, @KWBOYER_DLJ.