Letter: Wright County commissioner responds to Harry Walsh story, letters

To the editor:

This letter is in response to a couple of letters appearing in recent editions of the Monticello Times following your article on Father Harry Walsh.

These letters challenge the actions of Wright County and Monticello School District officials in the wake of significant allegations against Father Harry which covered a period of decades.

These reports included two specific alleged cases of sexual abuse of minors along with a series of other “scandalous” behavior as described by officials of the Catholic Church.

One letter writer asked about “solid facts” and “a rush to judgement.”

I can assure there was no rush to judgment by the county board.

Father Harry was never determined to be guilty of these actions by Wright County officials; however, neither were the alleged victims declared by the board to be guilty of making untrue accusation against Father Harry.

In fact, we understood that it was not our job to determine guilt or innocence, nor were we capable of doing so.

However, Wright County officials needed to deal with the situation.

Emails were coming in fast and furious.  Some were from local citizens, many of whom I have known for years, in support of Father Harry.

An equal amount asked for Father Harry’s dismissal from his contract with Wright County.

Among those asking for his dismissal were past victims of clergy sex abuse, university professors, lawyers, victim’s advocates and a Catholic priest.

These emails came from various locations in Minnesota and beyond.

The Monticello School District had already notified Wright County that Father Walsh would no longer be able to provide services in their school district.

Some have challenged that action. I can only imagine that had Monticello School officials done nothing and an allegation arose six months from now how many more would have challenged their lack of action.

As a Catholic priest wrote to me in an email, “We must error on the side of protecting children.” Wright County officials needed to do something.

One school district had already contacted us and with the firestorm that was beginning to brew it was almost a certainty that there would have been a series of similar actions across the county from other school districts.

A significant component of the position is working with students within the various schools in Wright County.

If one is not allowed into those schools clearly they cannot fulfill the contract.

With this in mind, and without determining guilt or innocence of Father Harry or his accusers, Wright County ended our contract with him.

Pat Sawatzke

Editor’s Note: Sawatzke is a Wright County Commissioner and member of the Wright County Human Services Board.