FARGO — A priest in south-central North Dakota will not be criminally charged after a girl accused him of sexual misconduct while he was a clergyman in Fargo and Towner, N.D., but Catholic leaders will decide at a later date whether he can resume missionary work.
McHenry County State’s Attorney Joshua Frey announced Tuesday, Nov. 26, that he will not file charges against the Rev. Wenceslaus Katanga, who is on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Fargo Diocese. The announcement comes three months after the Cass County State’s Attorney's Office declined criminal charges amid similar allegations in Fargo.
“I have concluded that there is insufficient evidence of criminal wrongdoing as well as questionable grounds for jurisdiction lying in McHenry County,” Frey said in his letter of declination. “Therefore, it is my opinion that I would be unable to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt."
Katanga was removed from his priestly duties in April after the diocese learned police were investigating allegations of conduct involving a child while he was a priest at Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church. A young girl accused Katanga of inappropriately touching her three times in the late 2000s — twice in Fargo and once at his home in McHenry County.
Like Cass County authorities, Frey said there were no witnesses to corroborate the girl’s story, nor was there physical evidence to back up the claims.
“While the law does not require corroborating physical evidence to sustain a conviction for gross sexual imposition, it is my opinion that the lack of any corroborating evidence will be fatal to a prosecution on these facts,” Frey wrote.
The child also couldn’t identify the location of Katanga’s McHenry County home, and drawings of the home did not match that of his parish residence in Towner, Frey said.
A native of Tanzania in east Africa, Katanga was ordained by the Fargo Diocese in 2003. He is a priest at St. Andrew’s Church in Zeeland, St. David’s Church in Ashley and St. Patrick’s Church in Wishek. It’s unclear how long he was a priest in Fargo.
Katanga will remain on leave until the diocese completes its investigation, diocese spokesman Paul Braun said in an email to The Forum. Bishop John Folda will then decide if Katanga will return to ministry work.
“This has been a difficult time for the individuals who reported their concerns, for the parishioners of these parishes and for Father Katanga,” Braun said in the email.
The diocese will continue to offer support for all involved, he said.
“I want to assure everyone that the safety of our children and families is — and will remain — a priority for the Diocese of Fargo,” Folda said in a statement. “I ask you to keep in your prayers everyone who may be affected by this matter and our Church.”