FARGO, N.D. -- North Dakota's two Roman Catholic dioceses on Thursday released a list of 53 clergy members who have had substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.
Bishop John Folda of the Fargo Diocese said in a statement that the list is the result of a “thorough review” of files dating back to 1950. Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck said there have been no substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor that have occurred after 1989. A Fargo Diocese spokesman did not immediately respond to a question about whether Kagan's statement applied to the eastern North Dakota district as well.
The list includes 31 people in the Fargo Diocese and 22 in Bismarck. Some of them were not ordained in North Dakota but served in the state at some point.
“While one claim is one too many, the Church acknowledges her brokenness because of the action of a few and recognizes our responsibility for healing and reconciliation,” Kagan said in a statement on the diocese website.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said in a statement that his office has been working with prosecutors in Cass and Burleigh counties, where the dioceses are based, to make sure that any allegations against clergy members are “thoroughly investigated.” He promised to look into any allegations not identified by the dioceses.
The North Dakota dioceses are the 148th and 149th in the country to release names of offending clergy, said Terence McKiernan, co-founder of BishopAccountability.org, He called the announcement a “step in the right direction,” especially since there are names on the list his group has not seen before.
However, McKiernan and Tim Lennon, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said it's unfortunate the releases did not include information about work history, photographs, when the allegations against each clergy member were received and what actions were taken in response.
Without those details, Lennon said, it comes off as a public relations ploy to appease the public.
“It's a shame we didn't have the names a long time ago, but this is a good thing,” McKiernan said. “I hope that the bishops in the dioceses can take the next step and bring their lists kind of up to code, if you will.”
Various dioceses may apply different standards and criteria for judging allegations.Officials with the Fargo Diocese, which has about 70,000 members, and the Bismarck Diocese, which has about 62,000 parishioners, have balked at releasing lists in the past, saying they were worried about privacy concerns for employees.
Privacy is important but the church relinquishes some of that confidentiality when someone sexually abuses a child, McKiernan said.
The list of priests from the Fargo Diocese includes the Rev. Richard Sinner, the brother of former North Dakota Gov. George Sinner. Richard Sinner, who died in 2004, was ordained in 1952 and eventually removed from the ministry, according to the diocese. George Sinner died in 2018.
The file of those accused also includes Fernando Sayasaya, a former Fargo priest accused of molesting two boys in the 1990s and is now serving a 20-year prison term. He was accused of misconduct while he was assigned to St. Mary's Cathedral in Fargo and the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in West Fargo. He fled to the Philippines in 1998 and was returned In December 2017.
“It is my hope that this release of names will open the way to a purification of our Church, especially our own diocese,” Folda said in his statement.
Associated Press writer James MacPherson contributed from Bismarck.