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Former area priest admits to abuse
A Catholic priest originally from New Prague, and who served area parishes in New Prague, New Market, Montgomery and Shieldsville, reportedly admitted in 1995 to abusing children while serving on a South Dakota Indian Reservation in the 1970s.
Minnesota Public Radio reported Monday, Nov. 11, that Rev. Clarence Vavra, 74, a New Prague native who served in his hometown parish for 11 months in 1979, had admitted in 1995 to abusing a boy while serving on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in the 1970s. The MPR reported that Vavra also admitted to “inappropriate sexual contact with other adult males.” The admissions were part of a psychological evaluation in 1995. Vavra received inpatient psychological treatment in 1996, but Archbishops John Roach and Harry Flynn kept him in the ministry and did not contact police.
The report stated that Vavra, who has never been publicly identified in any abuse complaints, was permitted to continue serving as a priest until Flynn asked him to retire in 2003. His last assignment was as an associate pastor from 1997 to 2002 when he was at the Most Holy Redeemer Church in Montgomery.
According to the MPR article, Vavra agreed to take early retirement as a priest about that time, in exchange for an extra $650 a month in retirement pay. According to the article, those payments were supposed to end in 2004, when Father Vavra became eligible for Social Security, but continued well beyond that date until Archbishop John Nienstedt, who became archbishop in 2008, became aware of them and ended the payments.
The MPR article stated that Flynn and Father Kevin McDonough, the vicar general for the archdiocese, instructed Vavra that he was to refrain from saying Mass publicly, from dressing as a priest or doing anything to indicate that he was still a priest.
Vavra was ordained a priest in 1964 and served 17 assignments in his 38 years as a priest.
In an open letter regarding the matter, Nienstedt wrote “Clarence Vavra not only violated his victims and their families, he violated his sacred trust as a priest and he deeply offended his fellow clergy and the laity. Serious errors were made by the archdiocese in dealing with him. In the spirit of offering him a path to healing and redemption, too much trust was placed in the hope of remedying Vavra’s egregious behaviors. Not enough effort was made to identify and care for his victims. Under our standards today, Vavra should have been removed permanently from ministry when he openly admitted his crimes and the civil authorities should have been notified immediately.”
After retiring, Vavra moved back to New Prague. He currently lives a short distance from New Prague Middle School.
Father Kevin Clinton, pastor of St. Wenceslaus in New Prague, said he could not say anything about Father Vavra's tenure in New Prague in 1979 or his retirement. He referred questions on those matters to the Archdiocese. Phone messages were exchanged between the spokesperson and this newspaper, but no response was available at press time.
Asking for information
Father Clinton did say that this week's parish bulletin would include a letter from the Archdiocese on the matter. In that letter, it states that Vavra admitted to sexually abusing minors at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1975 - 1976. "The archdiocese is not aware of any child sexual abuse committed by Vavra during his time in ministry in the archdiocese."
The letter goes on to ask that "Anyone who has knowledge of unreported abuse by clergy should contact law enforcement and the archdiocese without delay."
Father George Kallumkalkudy of Most Holy Redeemer, also referred questions to the Archdiocese, and added that this weekend’s bulletin at Most Holy Redeemer will not include the letter on the matter.
“We haven’t received anything from the Archdiocese, and we are not going to put anything in the bulletin,” he said.
Prior to his retirement, Vavra worked with Father George Grafsky at Most Holy Redeemer. In addition to Holy Redeemer, Vavra also helped Grafsky with Masses at Shieldsville and Kilkenny. During their time working together, Grafsky said he didn’t see anything that would have been concerning.
“I saw nothing. He did nothing that would be alarming or worrying for me,” he said.
The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis announced on Monday, Nov. 11, that it will disclose information about priests against whom substantiated claims of sexual abuse of minors have been made. The decision came in response to the MPR News investigation on Vavra.