Former priest Joseph Wajda groomed young boys for years, church records show
Joseph Wajda's house is a mess. Even from the front doorway, I can see stacks of yellow newspapers, unopened mail, and fast-food ketchup packets -- trash on top of trash that's accumulated in the kitchen and rotted over the years.
It's March and I'm working on a profile of another former priest who studied under Wajda back in the '90s. He's 67 now, and mumbles a lot, but eventually invites me inside for an interview. I remove my boots and freeze, having just stepped on soaking wet carpet.
Wajda looks at me through thick lenses and shrugs. Then he explains, "The ceiling collapsed."
I came to Wajda's door in northeast Minneapolis to ask him about his old pupil, but the questions didn't end there. A couple weeks earlier, internal documents had fallen into my hands suggesting that Wajda was among the weirdest alleged sexual predators to ever serve in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. By the time he was removed from parish life, he had cost the church at least $180,000 in private settlements.
You can see for yourself in new documents made public today by Jeff Anderson's law firm, which is suing the archdiocese. The Wajda file is 3,200 pages long, but only 38 have been selected for online.
"Wajda is one of of those guys who never could control himself," Anderson says, "and notwithstanding his age, he still poses a risk."
It took only one month after Wajda's ordination, in 1973, before the first allegation came in -- that he propositioned a young boy in Crystal, Minnesota.
The documents show that Wajda could be both nice and vindictive. He bought gifts for the boys he liked -- an expensive stereo system here, a pair of water skis there -- but shamed those who had disappointed him. In 1982, he allegedly forced a boy who had refused to take off his swimming suit in a sauna to bend over bare for a "birthday spanking."
The same boy claimed that Wajda made an almost daily habit of forcing him to undress and assume various positions on his office floor to see if he could "get hard." When another priest asked how often Wajda did this, the boy responded, "Hundreds of times."
He went on to say that Wajda rarely touched his naked body, except for "accidental" brushes against the genitals.
Top officials in the archdiocese were aware of these accusations and others, and commented among themselves that there was little reason to doubt the stories.
One priest noted that Wajda, while living at St. Rose of Lima, in 1985, had made harassing phone calls to the family of a boy he was tight with. When the family complained, Wajda had poured "some sticky substance like molasses" on the pew where they sat each Sunday.
The church responded by sending Wajda away for a psychological evaluation at the St. Luke Institute in Maryland. The facility recommended inpatient treatment because he "was highly defensive and seemingly unaware of his psychosexual needs and behavior."
In 1991, the archdiocese finally yanked Wajda out of service and, after a couple years in grad school, appointed him a judge in the church's marriage court.
Still, the allegations kept coming. As late as 2002, a Catholic nursing home had begun restricting Wajda's visits with his mother because he had "engaged in questionable contact with some of the young male employees," according to attorneys. Even Kevin McDonough, the former vicar general, claims he walked by Wajda's bedroom in the St. Peter Claver rectory one morning and overheard him saying he wanted to see so-and-so naked and masturbate.
In 2013, after much lobbying here, Rome agreed to defrock him.
Wajda minimized the allegations when they were fresh, and flat out denies them today. My interview with him, inside his home, was hands down the craziest I've ever conducted -- an entire hour of blame-shifting, diversion, and total nonsense.
He rambles when I ask him about specific cases, claiming first that "anyone can make an accusation," then ducking into anecdotes that make him look good. For instance, he brings up an occasion, during the Civil Rights Movement, when he faced down his peers for getting a cup of coffee with an African American man.
Literally, the next sentence out of his mouth is this: "All you had to do was for, sometimes, people would sit there and say, 'You're discriminating against me. I'm black.'"
Much like women and gays, he adds -- they all want to make trouble.
But the one person he keeps returning to is his old pal Thomas Adamson, an admitted sexual abuser. Wajda claims he blew an early whistle on Adamson, reporting in 1981 to then-Bishop Robert Carlson.
Whether that's true is another story, and at this point in the conversation, beyond my cares. Before leaving, I ask him if he has any last words.
"I may not receive the vindication I seek in this life," he says, "but I know when I stand before the judgment of God, I will be vindicated."
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