Kenneth LaVan, accused priest, kept working for archdiocese until 2014
As a bishop, Robert Carlson was responsible for sniffing out sexual misconduct. It was February 1985, and he’d just gotten through interviewing Father Kenneth LaVan and a married woman who’d slept with the priest after his repeated and aggressive advances.
She was scared, she said, because he’d begun appearing outside her home and crashed a family trip to the beach. The woman’s husband confronted LaVan, and he responded by giving a sermon the following Sunday about those who would not forgive.
In private, he was more direct. As Carlson would later write, LaVan had “mentioned a threat about possibly burning down the house” and murdering her husband. But he was quoted as adding, “I am not that kind of person.”
Next came Carlson’s recommendation to Archbishop John Roach: “[W]e accept Father LaVan’s resignation from the parish, find a suitable cover story and get him into a in-patient treatment program.” He urged the archdiocese to act quickly, “so this thing does not blow up.”
But blow up, it did. Three decades later, LaVan’s personnel file — more than 1,400 pages in length — is now in the public domain. It comes to us as part of a lawsuit filed by attorney Jeff Anderson and his minions, who allege that the archdiocese (with the help of the Diocese of Winona) has protected sexual predators.
In a statement, Bishop Andrew Cozzens apologized “for the harm caused by some of our priests.” He argued that a lot has changed in recent years, including the church’s understanding of mental health and the way it reacts to abuse: “Under today’s standards and protocols, if we were to receive similar allegations regarding a priest, police would immediately be notified.”
LaVan has been accused of molesting several women (including one who suffered from a brain injury) and at least three girls (including one who had been studying to become a nun). One of those girls reported that the priest cornered her and felt her up and down while kissing madly. Another described for Gary Schoener, a psychologist hired by the archdiocese, the way LaVan pinned her to the floor, held her mouth shut, and raped her.
Although Schoener warned, as far back as 1988, that putting LaVan back into ministry was “very risky,” that’s exactly what the clergy did. After two stints in treatment and two lawsuits, LaVan retired in 1997 but continued to pick up services for vacationing priests.
In 2005, then Vicar General Kevin McDonough wrote to his superior, Archbishop Harry Flynn, seeking advice on what to do with the old boy. There were two options: ask LaVan to leave gracefully or reopen the investigation. Rules implemented in the wake of the Boston sex abuse scandal made it clear that any priest with a single act on his record needed to go.
Flynn came back with a third option: leave it alone. “I do not think we should reopen this case again since it seems to have been closed to the satisfaction of everyone involved,” he wrote.
Archbishop John Nienstedt finally stripped LaVan of responsibilities in January 2014, one month after the release of the archdiocese’s list of “credibly accused” priests. LaVan was added to that list in March.
For an abusive priest, retirement income came with a premium
By Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
They called him the Polka Padre. Later, they called him the Polka Predator.
For decades, the Rev. Robert Kapoun charmed parishioners with his accordion at “polka masses” across Minnesota. Privately, he took young boys to saunas, rectories and a secluded cabin in Cold Spring and sexually assaulted them, according to court testimony. Parents complained but leaders at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis did little to stop him.
Kapoun remained in ministry until 1996, the year a lawsuit brought by Dale Scheffler, one of his victims, went to trial. It was the biggest clergy sex abuse case in Minnesota history. Over 10 days in a packed Hennepin County courtroom, jurors watched in shock as a parade of top church leaders defended and minimized their inaction. Former Archbishop John Roach claimed memory loss, while Kapoun, then 57, claimed that God had cured him of his sexual interest in young boys.
The jury awarded a $1 million verdict. Scheffler broke down sobbing.
An MPR News investigation found that a year after the trial, the archdiocese allowed Kapoun to retire early and sent him funds beyond his pension pay that totaled about $160,000 by 2012. The money was classified as “medical retirement.” Those retirement payments — $957.50 every month — came in addition to regular pension checks of $1,510.50.
In an interview recently with MPR News, Kapoun dismissed questions about money. The priest said that he rarely sees anyone from the archdiocese and that he suffers from migraines and spinal pain. He splits his time between his half-million dollar lakefront property in Cold Spring and a second home in Florida. “I’m very happy,” said Kapoun, 74.
A spokesperson for the archdiocese declined to make anyone available to discuss Kapoun.
Kapoun is one of several accused priests who’ve received payments in addition to regular pension checks, according to two former top church officials.