Former vicar general still in the pulpit

by Kay Fate

Bishop John Quinn
Bishop John Quinn

WINONA — The man who abruptly resigned as vicar general and chancellor of the Diocese of Winona continues to say Mass and celebrate the sacraments, despite what church law says about suspended priests.

The Rev. Msgr. Richard Colletti has officiated at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and St. Casimir, both in Winona, according to parishioners who were present.

Colletti, 63, resigned a week ago after the Post-Bulletin discovered he admitted under oath in the early 1990s that he had a sexual relationship with a college freshman whom he was counseling.

The relationship lasted for more than a year, according to court documents obtained by the Post-Bulletin, and included a pregnancy scare.

Msgr. Richard Colletti

The vicar general is the second-highest ranking position in the diocese. Colletti also resigned from his position as administrative chaplain for the Winona Newman Center.

Bishop John Quinn said June 1 that “it would have been within my role to (terminate Colletti), but before I even began that discussion, Monsignor informed me that he wished to resign.” The resignation was effective that day.

According to canon law, the rules that govern the church and its members, “a suspended priest is usually forbidden by his bishop to exercise the power of order, which means he is not permitted to celebrate any of the sacraments.”

It offers “many reasons why a bishop may suspend a priest,” according to a canon law website, “but here in the U.S. we are all unfortunately familiar with the most common example in recent years: The priest who is suspended after allegations of sexual abuse are made against him.”

A suspended priest always retains the ability to say Mass; he is, however, ordered not to do so.

Quinn is out of town for the week, said Ben Frost, director of public relations for the diocese, and no one else could comment.

Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine monk and Roman Catholic priest who’s a consultant for Jeff Anderson & Associates, a Twin Cities law firm that has represented dozens of victims of priest sexual abuse, has a master’s degree in canon law from the University of Cardiff School of Law. He said Tuesday that Colletti’s continued role within the church is in “direct violation of their procedures.”

He noted Quinn’s “most recent response on sexual abuse about the promise of safe churches, and the most recent statement regarding Colletti,” which says in part that “the Diocese of Winona takes every allegation of clergy sexual misconduct very seriously.”

The victim turned to Colletti, who served as chaplain and director of campus ministry at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, at the beginning of her freshman year more than 20 years ago, court documents say. She was 18 and seeking counseling for depression. According to court documents obtained by the Post-Bulletin, Colletti twice admitted the sexual relationship to the Rev. Gerald Mahon — vicar general of the diocese at the time and now pastor at Church of St. John the Evangelist in Rochester. Mahon told Colletti to stop seeing the woman; Colletti continued to pursue her, documents say.

Eight months after Mahon first learned of the sexual contact, he referred Colletti to Servants of the Paraclete for a psychological evaluation. Within six months, Colletti was also sent to the House of Affirmation, a psychlogical and psychosexual treatment center for priests, and to Guest House, a facility in Rochester that treated priests for alcoholism.

In a letter to Colletti in November 1988, Mahon called him “dishonest” at least six times, writing, “it is clear that deception and dishonesty have characterized your behavior … ”

The woman filed a personal injury lawsuit in 1991 against Colletti, the diocese, Saint Mary’s University and the Church of St. John the Evangelist, where Colletti was later transferred. The parties settled the case three years later. Though the file remains open, the terms of the settlement are confidential.

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