By Kristine Goodrich, Mankato Free Press, Reprinted by permission. Originally published Jan. 16, 2019
NEW ULM — Two retired priests in the Diocese of New Ulm have been cleared of decades-old sexual abuse claims and returned to limited ministry.
The Brown County Attorney’s Office also had decided not to pursue criminal charges against a third accused priest who has since died.
A St. Paul law firm that represents alleged victims of clergy sex abuse announced in early 2016 it was filing lawsuits against the Diocese of New Ulm and three retired priests.
The announcement from Jeff Anderson and Associates accused Revs. Bernard Steiner, Richard Gross and Edward Ardolf of sexually assaulting juveniles. The abuse allegedly occurred when Steiner was a priest at Church of St. Paul in Comfrey from about 1971-72, when Gross was at the Church of St. Mary in New Ulm from about 1965-66 and when Ardolf was at the Church of St. Raphael in Springfield from 1978-80.
The priests were already retired from active ministry. The diocese revoked their remaining privileges in response to the allegations.
Gross, who now lives south of St. Cloud, contacted The Free Press after recently receiving a letter from the diocese informing him his expulsion was over.
A diocese spokeswoman confirmed that an independent diocesan review board recommended Gross be returned to limited ministry after it reviewed a single civil allegation.
The diocese restored Steiner to limited ministry in early 2018 at the recommendation of a review board.
Ardolf died in August 2016 at age 79.
The New Ulm Police Department investigated the claims made against the priests.
The Brown County Attorney’s Office reviewed the investigations against Gross and Ardolf and did not file criminal charges.
County Attorney Charles Hanson said his records show there was “lack of probable cause” and statute of limitation issues in the Gross case. He said he does not know any further details because the prosecutor who reviewed the case has since left the County Attorney’s Office.
In the Ardolf case, Hanson said his office could not prosecute because the alleged victim had died and the only other witness was a therapist who would not testify.
Hanson said he can’t find any record of his office reviewing allegations against Steiner. According to a statement from the diocese, police investigated and found “no substantial credible evidence” against Steiner.
Gross, age 87, called it a “real injustice” that he was removed from ministry for nearly three years over a single unsubstantiated allegation.
Christine Clancy, diocese communications director, said it is standard procedure to immediately remove an accused priest.
“The Diocese of New Ulm takes all allegations against clergy very seriously,” she said.
There is no record in the state court database that civil lawsuits were actually filed in court against the diocese as claimed in the 2016 announcement by Jeff Anderson and Associates. Attorneys with the firm did not respond to requests for comment.
Other abuse lawsuits against the diocese were put on hold after the diocese filed for bankruptcy in 2017.
Gross said he is finally getting a good night’s rest again now that he feels vindicated.
Now that his faculties have been restored, Gross said he can fill in leading Mass at his senior home when its regular pastor is away.
Editor’s note: Although this information came out in January this year, there has yet been no press release from the diocese (or anyone else). I think every newspaper in the state received a press release with the first announcement that Fr. Gross and others had been accused. No such release announced that the accusations had been dropped.