What is clergy sexual abuse and how does it happen? by Stephanie Dickrell


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The recent arrest of the Rev. Anthony Oelrich, a Catholic priest who has worked in the Diocese of St. Cloud since 1992, has the community asking a lot of questions.

What happened? How did it happen? Who’s at risk?

Oelrich is facing a charge of third-degree criminal sexual conduct after he was accused of engaging in a sexual relationship with an adult to whom he was a spiritual counselor.

David Pooler, associate dean for academic affairs at the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University in Texas has studied the impact of clergy sexual abuse.

“There are people who really do look to pastors,” he said. “A lot of research around people with mental health problems says a local congregation, local pastor is the first stop for people with mental health problems, not a social worker or psychologist. Enormous trust is given to pastors.”

People often assume that if an incident involves two adults and they consented, it’s consensual.

“We’re at a place in the church and society where we know sexual abuse of children is wrong,” he said. “What the church and society haven’t completely figured out yet is adults.”

A Minnesota law that prohibits intimate relationships between therapists and counselors and their patients also specifically prohibits such relationships between members of the clergy and those they counsel.

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