15 October 2022
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — A St. Cloud Priest, convicted of one felony count of third-degree sexual conduct, will soon be released from prison.
In July 2020, Anthony Olerich was.
But his victims and their advocates are now wondering – what happens to him?
Advocates say it’s not a common question that gets raised, despite its importance.
“I wouldn’t use the word common and I’ll tell you why. Because not many of them go to jail,” said Frank Meuers, leader of the Minnesota chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests or SNAP.
We spoke to Deborah, who says she first met Olerich seeking spiritual guidance about her abusive ex-husband.
“I talked to him about what was going on with me and he used that to manipulate me into depending on him, he’s going to keep me safe. But then he wanted favors in response to that,” she said.
Deborah says it wasn’t until after she remarried years later that she recognized that what Olerich had done to her was abuse.
She was encouraged to go to a SNAP meeting by her husband and quickly realized she wasn’t the only victim.
“I just started crying. I just broke down. It was like a wall came down,” she said.
Deborah’s case couldn’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired. But In 2017, another victim reported to St. Cloud police that she sought spiritual guidance from Oelrich following previous sexual abuse, and that he used those vulnerabilities against her. Deborah submitted evidence of her own abuse to support the more recent victim.
Oelrich pleaded guilty to the charge on Nov. 26, 2019, and admitted to engaging in sex with the victim.
As Olerich’s release on parole grew closer, both Meuers and Deborah say they’ve reached out to the Diocese of St. Cloud to find out what will happen to Olerich.
“As long as he’s in good standing and he’s still considered a priest by the church, then he still has paid allowances, support, medical care, retirement. It’s all being paid for by the people,” Meuers said. “We don’t deny the guy a life after prison. We’re not looking for that. What we are looking for is assurances that he’ll never be in a situation where he’s dealing with people as a counselor or as a priest. “
“With him coming out, I’m just really worrying what the church will do, what capacity they’ll use him and the fact that they never tell any of us victims what their plan is,” Deborah said. “If I gave money to the church, if I give money, I’m supporting my abuser. I’m supporting him so that he can be home and do what he wants. It’s really abusive to the people of god to ask them to support someone who’s been feeding on the sheep, basically.”
Both Meuers and Deborah hope to see change not just for their sake, but for the church’s.
“Start supporting the victims. That’s what we want. Where Rome’s talking to them and treating them with respect and asking them ‘Oh my god, what happened to you?’ Just like you would if somebody else was injured outside. ‘What happened? What can I do to help?’ They don’t do that,” Meuers said. “When they ignore you, when you go to them and they simply just keep you out of the loop, it’s simply another way of abusing you.”
As part of his sentencing, Oelrich has been ordered to register as a predatory offender and as part of his parole, he has been prohibited from serving as a priest or reverend. However, that does not prohibit him from serving the church in any other administrative position.
“I would hope that the church would keep him out of a position where anybody vulnerable is interacting with him,” Deborah said. “The department of corrections has been very helpful. Very much more so than the church ever has been for me.”
On Saturday morning, the Bishop Donald Kettler, from the Diocese of St. Cloud, responded in a statement:
As Father Oelrich’s prison sentence comes to an end, I again apologize to the victim(s)/survivor(s) and all those who have been hurt by his actions. I am committed to fostering healing for those who have been wounded and doing all I can to end clergy abuse. I continue to consider Father Oelrich’s future ministry status, which includes a judicial process required by Church law. This process continues to move forward. In the meantime, his priestly faculties remain suspended, meaning he cannot function or present himself as a priest, such as by celebrating public Masses, administering the sacraments, and wearing the Roman collar. Until his ministry status is finalized, he continues to receive his priest salary as required under Church law, but he is responsible for his own housing and other expenses.
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Author: Allen Henry