Former priest Joseph Wajda groomed young boys for years, church records show

Categories: Religion

From YouTube video taken in 2009 by MN SNAP
Joseph Wajda's house is a mess. Even from the front doorway, I can see stacks of yellow newspapers, unopened mail, and fast-food ketchup packets -- trash on top of trash that's accumulated in the kitchen and rotted over the years.

It's March and I'm working on a profile of another former priest who studied under Wajda back in the '90s. He's 67 now, and mumbles a lot, but eventually invites me inside for an interview. I remove my boots and freeze, having just stepped on soaking wet carpet.

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Wajda looks at me through thick lenses and shrugs. Then he explains, "The ceiling collapsed."

I came to Wajda's door in northeast Minneapolis to ask him about his old pupil, but the questions didn't end there. A couple weeks earlier, internal documents had fallen into my hands suggesting that Wajda was among the weirdest alleged sexual predators to ever serve in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. By the time he was removed from parish life, he had cost the church at least $180,000 in private settlements.

You can see for yourself in new documents made public today by Jeff Anderson's law firm, which is suing the archdiocese. The Wajda file is 3,200 pages long, but only 38 have been selected for online.

"Wajda is one of of those guys who never could control himself," Anderson says, "and notwithstanding his age, he still poses a risk."

It took only one month after Wajda's ordination, in 1973, before the first allegation came in -- that he propositioned a young boy in Crystal, Minnesota.

The documents show that Wajda could be both nice and vindictive. He bought gifts for the boys he liked -- an expensive stereo system here, a pair of water skis there -- but shamed those who had disappointed him. In 1982, he allegedly forced a boy who had refused to take off his swimming suit in a sauna to bend over bare for a "birthday spanking."

The same boy claimed that Wajda made an almost daily habit of forcing him to undress and assume various positions on his office floor to see if he could "get hard." When another priest asked how often Wajda did this, the boy responded, "Hundreds of times."

He went on to say that Wajda rarely touched his naked body, except for "accidental" brushes against the genitals.

Top officials in the archdiocese were aware of these accusations and others, and commented among themselves that there was little reason to doubt the stories.

One priest noted that Wajda, while living at St. Rose of Lima, in 1985, had made harassing phone calls to the family of a boy he was tight with. When the family complained, Wajda had poured "some sticky substance like molasses" on the pew where they sat each Sunday.

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