Issues with the statute of limitations on allegations mean no criminal charges will come from the state’s investigation into decades-old allegation of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
The investigation started about 18 months ago, when the Catholic Dioceses of Fargo and Bismarck released a list of 53 people who had been accused of sexual abuse in cases the diocese believed were substantiated.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem met with Bishops David Kagan and John Folda in June 2019, and asked to inspect all the records of the church relating to clergy abuse.
Stenehjem assigned four seasoned agents from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to the cases. The dioceses cooperated with the Attorney General’s office in allowing the agents to review all complaints, records and files, including allegations for those not previously designated as “substantiated” by the Dioceses.
“I appreciate the cooperation we received from the bishops in Fargo and Bismarck, and that the dioceses gave the investigators full access to all of the files,” Stenehjem said.
Of the 53 people on the list, all but two had died before the criminal investigation began. One of those men, John Owens, died in October. The other, Norman Dukart, lives in Dickinson.
The agents reviewed the files and victim reports, conducted interviews of several victims, and pursued new leads.
“During their investigation, agents also pursued a lead that resulted in the identification of one new individual, Odo Muggli, as a likely perpetrator of child sexual abuse,” a news release about the investigation, reads. “Muggli is an Order of Saint Benedict priest at Assumption Abbey in Richardton, which is not under the jurisdiction of the dioceses.”
The allegations against Dukart and Muggli date back to the 1970s. The 2019 session of the legislature extended the statute of limitations for prosecution of sexual abuse crimes, however US Supreme Court rulings have held that once a statute of limitations has already expired, a criminal prosecution cannot be revived.
Assistant Attorneys General in the Criminal division of Stenehjem’s office reviewed the investigative reports and determined that probable cause existed that could have led to criminal charges being filed against the two surviving clergy for the alleged acts they committed. Unfortunately, the acts of abuse occurred so long ago that the statute of limitations has run. Therefore, neither Dukart nor Muggli can be charged criminally.
“I regret it will not be possible to have these men face their victims at a trial and face the potential consequences, but I hope it brings a measure of comfort to the victims that these crimes were eventually investigated,” said Stenehjem. “While we are confident we have reviewed all the files of the church, I remind anyone who has been a victim of clergy abuse that they can contact my office and we will review those allegations,” he continued.
Victims of clergy sexual abuse can submit a report to the Attorney General’s office via email to email@example.com or by leaving a message on the agency’s toll free tip line, 1-800-472-2185. Victims will need to provide their name and contact information so investigators can follow up.