St. Cloud Priest Charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct

February 14, 2018 07:00 PM

A priest in the Diocese of St. Cloud, alleged to have had sex with a woman from whom he was taking confession and who was seeking spiritual guidance, has been charged with criminal sexual conduct and relieved of his post.

A woman says she sought guidance from Anthony Joseph Oelrich, 51, of St. Cloud, a pastor at Christ Church Newman Center, after a previous relationship that had included sexual abuse, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in Stearns County.

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The woman told investigators that the reverend made himself available to her at any time to speak about her previous relationship, and on at least two of those occasions Oelrich exposed himself to her. 

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On one occasion, she told investigators, she touched his penis until he ejaculated, according to the complaint. On others, he would tuck her into bed and sleep alongside her until 1 or 2 a.m.

In January 2014, the complaint states, Oelrich invited the woman to the rectory to play cards and have dinner, after which he proposed she stay the night. They engaged in intercourse, which continued on occasion until April 2014, according to the complaint.

The woman was seeing Oelrich for confession during the period of time they were sleeping together, the complaint says. It adds that in "covertly recorded conversations" Oelrich acknowledged violating boundaries with the woman while not denying they had sex. 

Students on the St. Cloud State University campus were saddened to hear of the allegations.

"Knowing that you trust the priest with your confession, it's just a sense of trust there, and for this to be happening right now is just a lot to handle," said Jonathan Wiss, a Catholic student in his senior year at SCSU. 

Wiss attended Ash Wednesday services without Father Oelrich there.

"It kind of just puts a damper on everything knowing that's (allegedly) happening here, you can't do anything," Wiss added.

"I obviously take great pride in being a Catholic, so it's hard when things like this (allegedly) happen, especially in your own college community," added SCSU student Madison Lucke. 

It was unclear whether Oelrich had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. None was listed for him in the court record as of late Wednesday morning. 

Bishop Donald Kettler of the St. Cloud diocese said Oelrich has been removed from his post as pastor of Christ Church Newman Center, and that an administrator has been appointed. Kettler further has suspended Oelrich's "priestly faculties," which means he can no longer function or present himself as a priest pending the outcome of the judicial process, according to a diocese release.  

Oelrich has also served at Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids and the Cathedral of St. Mary in St. Cloud.

The reverend is charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct. He faces a maximum 15 years in prison and/or $30,000 in fines. He's next scheduled to appear in court Feb. 22.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Michael Oakes

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