Lawyer: Priest ‘methodically groomed’ and sexually assaulted women for years at church
The attorney for a woman who is accusing a local priest of sexually assaulting her on church property says this is just the beginning of a "terrifying" case.
JAMESTOWN, N.D. — The attorney for a woman who is accusing a local priest of sexually assaulting her on church property says this is just the beginning of a terrifying case.
Father Neil Pfeifer was released Friday, Feb. 3, on $5,000 cash bail after pleading not guilty to charges of sexual assault and sexual exploitation by a therapist. However, he is being tracked electronically 24/7.
If convicted, he faces up to 5 years in prison.
"It was heart-wrenching," said lawyer Tim O'Keeffe as he described the story of the woman accusing Pfeifer in the case.
The Diocese of Fargo has removed Pfeifer from ministry at his parishes in Jamestown, Buchanan and Windsor pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.
"The reaction of the church seemed to be a little bit slow here until law enforcement was involved," O'Keeffe said.
The woman claims she was visiting Pfeifer at the rectory at St. James Basilica to seek help for depression the week before Christmas. That's when he's accused of pushing her onto his bed and laying on top of her, then kissing her body.
She pushed him off and tried to leave, but before she could get out the door, the woman claimed Pfeifer grabbed her breasts and butt and started kissing her again.
Police say Pfeifer admitted to kissing the woman but said he did nothing else. He also reportedly told police he was on prescription drugs for an ear issue and may have had too much to drink.
"We just don't know who else might be out there that was groomed and abused," O'Keeffe said.
The attorney said he knows of one other alleged victim and has heard from several other potential victims. Police say more charges are possible.
Pfeifer also spent time in Grand Forks, Fargo and Napolean, which is south of Bismarck.
O'Keeffe said Pfeifer targeted young and middle-aged women acting as a therapist. He claims in one case the sex abuse dates back two years and that the abuse took place at church and on Catholic property.
"He built up authority and leverage with his victims systemically and very methodically over time, and it's very disturbing," O'Keeffe said.
Now that the silence has been broken, O'Keeffe hopes other potential victims come forward and share their stories with police.
"There is a sense of relief now that he is in custody and that he is not a part of the church, it's going to be very difficult for these people to keep their faith after what they went through," he said.
The Fargo Diocese said it is cooperating with criminal and civil investigators.
They did not comment on the allegations that they continued to allow Pfeifer to work for "several days" despite being aware of the allegations.
Attempts to reach Pfeifer for comment were not successful.
WDAY and The Forum do not typically name victims or accusers in cases of sexual misconduct.