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Criminal charges unlikely in cases of 10 priests accused of abuse

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It is not likely that criminal charges will be filed in 10 of the cases involving claims of sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, even after a year of police investigation and heightened scrutiny of the Catholic church's handling of abuse claims, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said this week.

The Star Tribune reports that the statute of limitations in each case “is going to be a barrier,” Choi said.

Criminal investigations in the sexual abuse cases have been ongoing in Ramsey County for months amid a number of civil lawsuits brought by people who claim abuse, in many cases dating back decades. A 2013 state law allowed the civil lawsuits to proceed even though many of them involved claims of abuse that happened long ago and would have otherwise been subject to statute of limitation laws.

But that law does not apply to criminal cases, which can be difficult for prosecutors to pursue when evidence and witnesses have aged for years.

Choi said a final decision on charges in the 10 cases is likely within about a month, the Star Tribune reports. He also said his office will shift more focus to what church leaders knew about abuse claims and what they did in response.

Victim advocates said there is still merit in the investigations, even if they do not yield criminal charges.

“There are multiple ways that victims experience justice,” Donna Dunn, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, told the Star Tribune. “Sometimes it’s through a guilty verdict. Oftentimes, it’s just the acknowledgment of being heard and being believed.”

Church under fire

For months, archdioceses in Minnesota have been the target of critics who say the church mishandled priest abuse scandals, becoming the subject of a number of police and media investigations, including one by MPR News.

Until last month, it had not previously been reported exactly how many priests in the diocese have been accused of abuse over the years. But early last month, it was reported that the Twin Cities Archdiocese has identified at least 103 priests who have been accused of child sexual abuse – a number far higher than the 34 priests that the church in December said had been “credibly accused” of abuse.

Church leaders have said that they are aggressively responding to abuse claims. Last month, in the wake of the scandals, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis hired the former chief of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension – a former SWAT team leader – to be its first head of its conduct and standards office.

The archdiocese is planning a Sept. 22 Mass of Healing, Reconciliation and Hope in Inver Grove Heights, to be presided over by embattled Archbishop John Nienstedt."Whether due to the wounds inflicted by a shepherd of the Church, or the loss of a loved one, or the violation of human dignity through domestic abuse or abortion, we all stand in need of the healing power of the Crucified and Risen One," the archdiocese says.

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