Forest Lake pastor apologizes after seeking ‘clemency’ for convicted child molester

[anvplayer video=”5135260″ station=”998122″]

A pastor in Forest Lake is apologizing to the community for seeking “clemency” for a former public school teacher convicted of sexually abusing two teenage boys.

The apology from Father Daniel Bodin on Wednesday afternoon came just hours after 5 INVESTIGATES asked about a letter he submitted to a Washington County judge.

In that letter, Bodin sought leniency for James Edward Carter.

Carter is to be sentenced Friday on two counts of criminal sexual conduct involving two of his former students at Forest Lake Middle School.

A jury convicted Carter in June.

He had previously volunteered and taught confirmation classes at St. Peter in Forest Lake, where Bodin is the lead pastor.

“He has been a longtime parishioner, neighbor and friend,” Bodin wrote of Carter in the letter to Judge Richard Ilkka.

Bodin added that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis directed the church to conduct its own investigation of Carter after he was initially charged.

“We have not received any allegations, but only letters of praise and gratitude for the work Mr. Carter has done,” Bodin wrote. “Therefore, I ask clemency on your behalf when sentencing Mr. Carter.”

Three hours after 5 INVESTIGATES contacted the Archdiocese to ask if it was aware of the letter, a spokesperson responded with a link to Bodin’s apology on the church’s website.

“I am deeply sorry and take full responsibility for the pain that letter caused those who were abused by James Carter, their loved ones, the faithful and our community. It was wrong of me to send the letter and I deeply regret doing so,” Bodin wrote Wednesday afternoon. “Please know that today I again wrote to the judge and retracted my earlier letter in its entirety.”

Jeff Anderson, an attorney who represents the family of one of the victims, says Bodin’s apology and retraction is not enough.

“Once you commit such a grievous offense, you can’t undo the harm,” Anderson said. “So, an apology at this late stage is meaningless.”

Now Anderson’s clients and other parents calling on the Archdiocese to further investigate Carter’s relationships with children at Saint Peter’s.

“It can’t stop with just an apology letter,” said Kelly Coates who removed her child from the Catholic school this week. “I’d like the Archdiocese to really take a hard look at not only this case, but possibly other cases out there.”

It is a sentiment echoed by Amanda Schmidt who also praised the school community at Saint Peter’s.

“It’s heartbreaking for the kids,” Schmidt. “We have to be an advocate for them and this has to change and it has to change now — everywhere.”

Charles Reid, Jr. is a professor at the University of St. Thomas who says Bodin’s original letter to the court “crossed a line” given the recent history of the Catholic church and the Archdiocese.

“You tolerate a culture of abuse over a number of years, you’re going to have people whose nerves are understandably, understandably rubbed raw. And with that kind of track record, the Archdiocese needs to practice a certain form of humility,” Reid said. “I think it should have informed the pastor to sit this one out.”

Father Bodin declined a request from 5 INVESTIGATES for an on camera interview, but responded with an additional written apology on Thursday.

“I made a terrible mistake that has compounded the pain of Carter’s victims, their families and so many others impacted by the sin of sexual abuse,” Bodin wrote.  “My hope is that the next step toward healing occurs when Carter is held accountable for his crimes and sentenced by the court on Friday.”

Clarification: A previous version of this story stated Carter worked at the Church of St. Peter. He was a volunteer, according to the Archdiocese.