Austin residents shocked to hear about local priests accused of sexual abuse

Published 10:21 am Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Austin residents may not remember much about Louis Cook or Jack Krough, but the two are spurring conversation after they were among 14 priests accused of sexually abusing children identified by the Diocese of Winona Monday.

Many residents, including many Pacelli Catholic Schools graduates, were unhappy to hear about the two priests, one of whom taught at Pacelli, but few were willing to speak about the issue.

“I’m glad they’re releasing their names,” said Karla Dooley, Austin resident and 1986 Pacelli Catholic Schools graduate. Dooley is one of hundreds of Pacelli graduates who heard the news about the priests Monday.

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Though Cook, who died in 2004, served in Austin in 1970 and 2000, he didn’t work with Pacelli students. Not so for Krough, who was ordained in 1976 and began his priesthood in Austin, where he served at St. Augustine Church and was a teacher at Pacelli Catholic Schools for four years.

Though residents like Dooley, who never had contact with either Cook or Krough, are speaking out, several Pacelli alumni declined to publicly comment on the issue.

Yet it is unclear whether Krough or Cook were accused of sexual abuse in Austin. The Diocese’s list of names included a history of parishes for each accused priest, but didn’t give more information.

“This list doesn’t tell us anything about where those offenders offended, when they offended, and when the Bishop and his predecessors knew anything about those reports,” said Mike Finnegan, a sexual abuse attorney with St. Paul firm Anderson & Advocates, whose legal battles involving former area priest Thomas Adamson resulted in the court-ordered release of accused priests’ names over the past few weeks.

Finnegan said the list is the first of what could be an extended legal battle to get the diocese to reveal more information about sexual abuse allegations in southeastern Minnesota. The names provided by the Diocese of Winona stood out to Finnegan because of the amount of parishes each accused priest served, which means many communities could have been affected by sexual predatory behavior.

To Finnegan, Monday’s list of names is the first step in what could be a protracted legal battle. In his experience, dioceses tend to fight against releasing sensitive documents concerning sexual abuse allegations. Though the diocese has 30 days to release more information once lawyers petition the court, Finnegan said, church officials could fight to leave those documents sealed, which would result in another lengthy court battle.

“This list really represents the first step,” Finnegan said. “It’s a start, but it’s far from the end.”

Shannon Hanzel, a retired Winona high school teacher who has worked with activists to pressure local church leaders to open up about abuse claims, urged her fellow Catholics on Monday to join in efforts to change the church from within. She reached out in particular to those who attended churches that appeared on the list.

“It’s going to be very difficult; it’s going to be very painful for lifelong Catholics who have had such love for the church and such respect for the clergy,” Hanzel said. “It’s hard to leave that comfort zone, but something has to be done.”

For residents like Dooley, the fact that the battle isn’t over is good news.

“I just think that people should know,” she said. “I think [priests] should be held accountable. They’re human and things happen. I just don’t think they should be able to hide behind the cloth.”