“A St. Cloud priest faces criminal charges on suspicion of engaging in a sexual relationship with a parishioner.
The Rev. Anthony Oelrich, 51, was charged with criminal sexual conduct in the third degree. The state statue makes it a crime for a member of clergy to engage in a sexual relationship with someone they are counseling spiritually or religiously.
St. Cloud police arrested Oelrich Tuesday morning and he appeared in court Wednesday.
Oelrich has worked as a priest in the Diocese of St. Cloud since 1992 and until Wednesday was the priest assigned to Christ Church Newman Center.
According to the criminal complaint, an adult woman went to Oelrich for spiritual guidance and told him during confession in December 2013 about a past relationship that included sexual abuse.
Oelrich later reached out and asked the woman further questions about the abuse. She told Oelrich she had become suicidal and Oelrich consoled her.
He also told the woman to contact him whenever she felt the need to talk to her prior abuser.
In one instance, according to the criminal complaint, she described receiving repeated calls from her prior abuser while she and Oelrich were together and Oelrich told her to answer the phone. Oelrich then exposed himself and said she “needed something for her hands,” according to the criminal complaint.
The victim told Oelrich that what he did scared her, and he responded by saying he would never have sex with her. In a later incident, according to the criminal complaint, they were in a car when Oelrich unbuckled his pants and told the victim to perform sexual acts on him, which she did.
The victim, who said she had insomnia, also said Oelrich would “come to her home and tuck her into bed,” according to the criminal complaint. He would also, she said, sleep with her in the bed until 1-2 a.m.
In January 2014, according to the complaint, the victim was invited to the rectory. She had dinner and played cards with Oelrich, who suggested they have intercourse. The victim said intercourse occurred on multiple days until April of 2014.
During the period Oelrich was having intercourse with the victim, he was also seeing her for confession. She told investigators their encounters often ended with a priestly blessing or a prayer.
Oelrich told an investigator he was aware of abuse in the victim’s prior relationship.
The criminal complaint said Oelrich acknowledged during a covertly recorded conversation that he had committed a “boundary violation.” He did not deny having sexual intercourse with the victim.
In a statement released Tuesday night, Bishop Donald Kettler said he was notified by St. Cloud police of Oelrich’s arrest following “an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct involving an adult woman.”
He was removed as a pastor of Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud as of Wednesday afternoon, according to a press release. The diocese initially placed Oelrich on administrative leave.
Kettler also suspended Oelrich from his priestly faculties, which means Oelrich cannot function or present himself as a priest pending the outcome of the judicial process.
“The diocese is cooperating with civil authorities and encourages all victims of abuse to come forward,” the statement from the diocese said.
Oelrich has served in the past at Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids and the Cathedral of St. Mary in St. Cloud. He has also served in parishes in Holdingford, Opole, St. Ana, St. Wendel, Pearl Lake and Rockville.
Oelrich has worked at the Newman Center since 2007 and is the director of continuing education for clergy in the diocese. Oelrich is a Milaca native and has served in the diocese for more than 20 years.
In 2014, parishioners of St. Mary’s, St. Augustine’s and the Newman Center, then a parish cluster, received a written notice that Oelrich was taking “voluntary leave for ‘depression, anxiety, and stress.’”
He went to the Saint Luke Institute, a Catholic treatment center that provides mental health services for priests, deacons and members of religious communities.
He returned to St. Cloud in June 2015. He was named priest of the Newman Center in July 2015, when the diocese made it a stand-alone parish.
The St. Cloud Police Department is urging anyone with more information or who would like to report a similar situation to call them at 320-251-1200.
For information on how to contact victim advocates and county officials or to report abuse, visit the diocese’s website at stcdio.org/about/safe-environment/how-to-report-abuse.”