A Minnesota priest who admitted in testimony to touching underage boys said he did not see the contact as sexual, and said archdiocese officials never restricted his access to children or told him to stop certain behavior, according to a now-public court deposition.
In the April deposition, released Tuesday by the law firm Jeff Anderson and Associates (click here to see the full transcript), Rev. Jerome Kern, 73, admitted to brief sexual contact with three boys, but denied ever having "skin-to-skin" contact, despite accusations from at least 20 individuals that Kern sexually abused them, including claims Kern forced them to engage in sex acts or touched their genitals.
Kern said the number of boys he sexually abused was "under five, certainly," and the last instance occurred about 35 years ago.
Kern said he engaged in "wrestling," "horsing around," and "jostling," during his time as an active priest from 1966-2002, including putting his arms around boys or his hands on their shoulders, but said he did not see any of the contact as sexual in nature.
"I thought it was appropriate to wrestle, to hug, you know, someone," he said. "I never thought of it as sexual ... And I thought it was legitimate recreation, you know. ... Whether it was, you know, I mean, putting your arms around someone and, you know, like in football we did all the time ... [or] pretend wrestling ... I always thought it was OK."
Because of that, he testified, he was never concerned about getting arrested.
Kern also says nobody from the archdiocese told him to stop engaging in that type of activity, nor did anybody tell him to stop certain behaviors, despite a complaint against Kern being made to archdiocese officials as early as 1969, with numerous other complaints being made after that.
Kern said two things made him stop the behavior: One, the gradual realization he couldn't give his "hugs" to anybody; and two, a lawsuit from one victim filed in 1993.
When asked, Kern said he's gradually come to realize the harm it can cause a child. He retired in 2002.
In November of 2013, a man, now in his 50s, filed a lawsuit claiming Kern abused him as a young teenager in the mid-1970s, while Kern worked at Our Lady of Grace Church.
Kern's testimony is the latest in a string of now-public depositions, the most recent of which was former priest Thomas Adamson, who said he remembered having sexual contact with at least 10 minors, but was unsure of the specific number.