FARGO — A Catholic priest in south-central North Dakota will not face criminal charges after being accused of sexual misconduct involving a child in Fargo, but the case could go to a prosecutor in McHenry County after an investigation revealed one incident allegedly happened there.
The Cass County Attorney’s Office announced Monday, Aug. 19, it would not pursue a criminal case against the Rev. Wenceslaus Katanga, who has served as a priest at three North Dakota churches in McIntosh County since 2010. The Fargo Diocese announced in early April that the Fargo Police Department was investigating Katanga concerning “interaction with a youth while ministering at Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church in Fargo.”
Prosecutors will not be able to prove Katanga allegedly had sexual contact with the child twice in Fargo because there are “no corroborating witnesses or physical evidence to support” the accusations, Cass County Assistant State’s Attorney Joshua Traiser said in a letter declining charges.
“Many years have passed since this incident occurred, and any physical evidence in the form of clothing or DNA will have no evidentiary value,” Traiser wrote.
But the case isn’t closed yet. An investigation revealed one incident allegedly happened while Katanga was living in Towner, which is in McHenry County about 40 miles east of Minot. The child, who was 6 years old at the time, and her family had gone to see Katanga. There, he allegedly touched her inappropriately and asked her to touch him.
The behavior could constitute sexual conduct, Traiser said, but it would be up to prosecutors in McHenry County to pursue charges.
McHenry County State’s Attorney Josh Frey said he has heard about the case but hadn’t received the file as of 4:30 p.m. Monday. “When we get it, we will take a look at it,” Frey said when asked about the case.
Katanga was put on administrative leave from his duties at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Wishek, St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Zeeland and St. David’s Catholic Church in Ashley. In a statement Monday, the diocese said Katanga’s "status remains unchanged."
"After the McHenry County States Attorney’s office completes its investigation, the Diocese of Fargo will conduct its own internal investigation before making a decision about Fr. Katanga’s future priestly ministry," the diocese said. "We also extend an offer of pastoral assistance to any person who believes they are a victim in this situation."
Katanga is a native of Tanzania in east Africa, and he attended the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, according to Forum archives. He was ordained in 2003.
The allegations in Fargo stem from three incidents in the late 2000s, according to Traiser's letter. During one incident, Katanga was accused of rubbing his foot against the child’s leg under a table during a Bible study session in the summer of 2007, the letter said. The child was 7 years old at the time, the letter said.
In another incident, Katanga allegedly touched the child’s chest when she was 7 or 8 years old, the letter said.
The announcement from prosecutors comes as the Fargo Diocese prepares to release its list of clergy who were credibly accused of sexual abuse. Church leaders are reviewing 70 years worth of files, diocese spokesman Paul Braun previously told The Forum.
It’s unclear when the list will be released, but it could be soon, according to a column by Bishop John Folda published last month in the diocese’s official magazine.
“I can tell you that we have been reviewing hundreds of files for many months, and we are now in the final stretch,” Folda said in the July/August edition of New Earth. “Once the review is complete, I will offer the findings to all the faithful in the hope that the suffering of victims will be acknowledged and that we as a diocese will experience the purification of God’s healing grace.”
Katanga is among a group of priests connected to the Fargo Diocese who have been accused of inappropriate behavior involving children and vulnerable adults.
The diocese acknowledged in June that it was investigating allegations against the Rev. Jack Herron, a retired priest. A woman who asked to not be identified accused Herron of sexual misconduct while she was an underage teen and he was a priest in the 1970s at St. Anthony of Padua in Fargo.
Herron remains under investigation, Braun said.
In July, attorneys for 33-year-old Kateri Marion of Belcourt, N.D., announced they would sue the Fargo Diocese, the Texas-based Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, and the Rev. Michael Wight, who served as a priest at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Belcourt for several months in 2016.
Both Herron’s and Wight’s priestly faculties were removed after church leaders learned of the accusations.
Parties involved in Wight’s case asked Marion’s legal counsel to hold off on filing a lawsuit so a possible settlement could be mediated before the end of the year, said Michael Bryant, an attorney representing Marion.