FARGO — A woman who says she was sexually abused by a Fargo priest in the 1970s is sharing her story.
The woman, who asked not to be named, has reported the allegations against retired Father Jack Herron, who was a priest at St. Anthony of Padua, to the Catholic Diocese of Fargo and the Fargo Police Department. She told The Forum Herron groped her and touched her inappropriately in the church’s rectory.
“I have to deal with this. It’s kind of like how your life is a puzzle,” she said. “I’ve dealt with everything else in my life that were struggles except this one corner piece.”
The woman was 15 to 16 years old when the alleged inappropriate contact occurred, according to a January letter to the diocese. The letter, which was obtained by The Forum, was from her attorney and described how she had sought Herron’s help in answering questions about the Catholic faith.
Though the alleged abuse didn’t happen immediately, the letter details inappropriate touching. At times, Herron called her "his little lady," the letter alleged. The priest allegedly asked her to keep the interactions a secret.
“I kept this secret. I promised I wasn’t going to say anything,” she said. “It was always there in my mind.”
After reporting the allegations to the diocese in March 2018, a diocese advocate went with her to report the claims to police. Given the statutes of limitations on sex crimes in North Dakota, prosecution of Herron seems unlikely.
Diocese spokesman Paul Braun told The Forum that the church has been investigating the allegations.
“Father Herron, who was retired and serving in a hospital as a chaplain outside of the Diocese of Fargo when the allegation was reported to us, had his faculties for the exercise of priestly ministry removed pending the outcome of any civil and canonical investigations,” Braun said in a statement. “Our canonical investigation is still in progress, so we have no further comments.”
Herron was a parochial vicar at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Grand Forks and served as a priest in Knox, Maddock, Fillmore, Bremen, Fessenden and Michigan, N.D. He also was a full-time military chaplain outside the Diocese of Fargo from 1989 until his retirement in 2017. Phone messages left for Herron were not returned Tuesday, June 25.
At least nine other priests have been accused of sexual abuse while serving in the Fargo Diocese, according to the Bishop Accountability website. Most recently, the Fargo Police Department sent to prosecutors its investigation into misconduct allegations against the Rev. Wenceslaus Katanga.
The investigation stems from his time at Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church in Fargo and allegedly involved a child. Katanga is on administrative leave from his service at three North Dakota churches in Zeeland, Ashley and Wishek.
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The Fargo Diocese, founded in 1889, is reviewing 70 years worth of clergy files before it releases its list of priests who have faced credible allegations of sexual abuse involving children, Braun previously told The Forum. It’s unclear when the list will be released. The Bismarck Diocese also is reviewing all of its files dating back to its foundation in 1910, if possible.
The woman who accused Herron said she doesn’t plan to sue the church. She just wants Herron to apologize, she said.
She hopes her story will inspire others to come forward to the church or to share their stories in other ways so they can get help.
“You have to accept what you can’t change,” she said. “I may not ever get an apology from him.”