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St. Paul police reopen child porn investigation aimed at priest Jon Shelley

St. Paul police are taking a fresh look into allegations a computer that used to be the property of the Reverend Jon Shelley contained pornographic images of children.

RELATED: Priest reportedly approached young men at Barnes & Noble, asked, "Are you fucking horny?"

The case was closed last week, but during a press conference today, authorities said they've reopened it in light of new evidence presented to them by a parishioner of the St. Jude of the Lake church in Mahtomedi who acquired Shelley's old computer at a rummage sale back in 2004.

That parishioner, Joe Ternus, alerted Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis officials about what he discovered shortly after he came across the images.

"It was graphic. It was hardcore," Ternus, referring to what he found on the computer, told MPR, adding that he planned to give the computer to his kids. "Just kind of freaked out everybody. I mean, this was something that a bunch of 6-, 7- and 8-year-old kids were going to be using, and this was what was on there waiting for them, if somebody hadn't taken the time to go in and look for it. And apart from that, this was the computer from the parish priest where my family went."

But archdiocese officials didn't alert police. Shelley, a 52-year-old Minneapolis resident, ended up being sent to Maryland for treatment, but was placed back in ministry at the Parish of St. John the Baptist in Hugo when he returned to Minnesota in 2008. He's currently on sabbatical.

According to MPR, a report on the matter prepared by investigators retrained by the archdiocese referred to "thousands" of "borderline illegal" images of young men on the computer. The Star Tribune reports that while Shelley's attorney acknowledges the presence of adult porn on the computer, he denies it stored anything illegal. Discs containing images from the computer were ultimately stored in the basement of the archdiocese's offices on Summit Avenue in St. Paul.

Jennifer Haselberger, the former canonical attorney for the archdiocese, claims she tried to alert Archbishop John Nienstedt about the images in the archdiocese's possession. MPR explains what did or didn't happen from there:

The archbishop never called police, [Haselberger] said. Months later, the Rev. Peter Laird, Nienstedt's deputy, ordered her to hand over the pornographic images.

"I did as I was told," said Haselberger, who resigned in April. "I went back to my office. I closed the door and I called Ramsey County."

But officers with the St. Paul Police Department's sex crimes and vice units couldn't find the child pornography that Haselberger had reported, despite several reviews of the three disks of evidence the archdiocese had handed over. Police closed the case this week without charges.

Finally, the Strib details why the investigation has been reopened so soon after it was closed:

Haselberger's allegations about the priest spilled into public view in a St. Paul courtroom last week in a separate case. Ternus then recalled that he had another copy of the images from the priest's hard drive. [Police] picked up the copy on Friday. Investigators will review the images to determine if they are the same as those already reviewed, [a St. Paul PD spokesman] said.

Over the weekend, the archdiocese released a statement about the allegations against Shelley. Click to page two to read it in its entirety.

 
Here's the archdiocese's statement:

Over the past few days, there have been multiple media reports concerning the conduct of a number of priests going back many years. Unfortunately, these reports are incomplete and leave a false impression about the commitment of the Archdiocese to identify and address misconduct by priests. It is critical to understand that our standard is zero tolerance for sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult and absolute accountability.

Since 2002 we have implemented a long list of policy and procedural reforms to clarify guidelines and strengthen enforcement. Some of the actions we have taken include completing more than 3,000 adult safe environment training sessions for approximately 70,000 adults; conducting 105,000 background checks on clergy, staff and volunteers; and providing over 100,000 children with age-appropriate lessons to help keep them safe.

As a further demonstration of our commitment to handling these matters aggressively and consistently, we have formed a special task force and charged them with conducting a full review of our policies and practices. When the report is complete, the findings and recommendations will be released publicly.

We are deeply sorry for any harm that has come from clergy misconduct. Eliminating any form of abuse is the highest priority for the Archdiocese. Our record is not perfect, but we have made great progress, and we are determined to do whatever is necessary to eliminate this problem.

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at arupar@citypages.com.


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