Illinois releases Catholic clergy child sexual abuse findings, some of which extend to Minnesota

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The findings of a massive investigation by the State of Illinois details sexual assaults of almost 2,000 children by hundreds of Catholic clergy members over a 70-year period, with some of the case links to Minnesota.

Investigators say they found 451 clergy members abused 1,997 children since 1950. Prior to the launch of the investigation in 2018, sexual abuse cases against only 103 clergy members had been substantiated in Illinois.

The report describes church leaders in Illinois were slow to acknowledge and report the abuse over the decades.

The most extensive part of the report pertaining to Minnesota concerns allegations against former priest Michael Joseph Charland, who was quietly transferred from Illinois to Minnesota in the late ’70s with little information shared about his past sex abuse allegations, and continued to work with children in the Twin Cities, resulting in another incident of alleged abuse in 1981.

According to the report, Charland was ordained as a priest in 1971 within the Oblates of St. Mary Immaculate and began to pursue graduate studies in counseling at Creighton University. That’s where “he developed a pattern of conduct he would eventually use to sexually abuse children.”

Charland lived on campus with other young men that were working on the same undergraduate degrees, in pursuit of a career that Charland had reached.

One of the young men Charland sexually abused through a “counseling session,” with the victim subsequently saying: “I was scared, yet so in need and soon accepted it as part of a deep, intimate friendship.”

In 1973, Charland was assigned to work as a school counselor at Saint Henry’s Preparatory Seminary. A high school freshman reported sexual abuse from Charland in 1976. The superior who was informed didn’t follow it up with any sort of investigation, despite believing that “more students were involved than just the one.”

Charland was told to leave the seminary and that’s how he ended up in Minnesota, at the University of St. Thomas as the associate director of campus ministry. No one was informed of Charland’s past upon arrival to Saint Henry’s nor in Minnesota, according to the report.

“From my point of view, I felt the incident was over,” the superior said.

Charland become more involved with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ youth retreats, despite having a past of sexually abusing teenage boys, according to the investigation. He co-founded the archdiocese’s TEC program — Teens Encounter Christ — where he also served as a spiritual director.

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