Attorney Jeff Anderson apologizes for photo fail as Catholic sex abuse scandal grows

Posters featured at a press conference on Dec. 5 in St. Paul containing the pictures of some archdiocese priests who allegedly abused minors
Posters featured at a press conference on Dec. 5 in St. Paul containing the pictures of some archdiocese priests who allegedly abused minors

He couldn't have been more clear.

Both before and after a press conference on Dec. 5 -- when he joined the victims of pedophile priests in his St. Paul office -- attorney Jeff Anderson pointed to the photo of a smiling, bespectacled holy man. His eggshell of a head reflected more light than his collar.

Earlier that day, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis had disclosed the names of 34 priests who'd been, in its own words, "credibly accused" of sexually abusing a minor. Anderson's office compiled headshots to hang behind the podium, including one of the Rev. Patrick J. Ryan. Only it was the wrong Patrick J. Ryan.

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Having learned of the mistake, Anderson warned the reporters and cameramen in the room not to publish it. Though blurry, the wrong headshot can still be see in the background of several TV news reports.

According to a statement released Friday, "Anderson personally telephoned Father Patrick J. Ryan that evening to apologize profusely for the inaccuracy..."

The actual priest in question died in 1965 while serving as pastor of Guardian Angels in Hastings. In 2002, he was accused of having sexually abused a minor in 1961.

The archdiocese says it looked into the allegation, hiring a private investigation firm that conducted two dozen interviews with "the complainant" and "persons thought to have information relevant to the claim against Ryan." In the end, the firm reported that the claim could not be substantiated. They kept it to themselves.

In addition to the work of Anderson and victim advocacy groups, media reports of the past few months have suggested that the cover-up lasted decades and went all the way to the top. Archbishop John Nienstedt stepped aside last week amid a new allegation -- that he himself touched a boy's butt in 2009. Nienstedt denies it.

Anyone who's looked into this issue for more than a minute knew that the list released on Dec. 5, as part of a Ramsey County court order, was incomplete. Indeed, the archdiocese conceded as much when it explained to the public earlier this month that the list was part of an ongoing review.

More proof came Thursday. MPR reported that the Rev. Harry Walsh -- previously unnamed -- had been accused of molesting a 12-year-old altar boy in South St. Paul in the early 1980s and a 15-year-old girl in Detroit in the mid-1960s. Church documents showed that in 1996 the archdiocese chipped in money to pay her off.

Still, the archdiocese kept Walsh employed even as Nienstedt entreated Rome for the priest's expulsion.

Walsh resigned in 2012. He now teaches sex education to "troubled teens" and "vulnerable adults" in Wright County.

He denied the bit about the boy but told MPR that he might have kissed the girl. It was the '60s and "there were hugs and kisses all around."

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to [email protected]

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