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Wagner ordered not to contact teen

NEW ULM — The parents of a 17-year-old girl in Brown County filed an order for protection Aug. 2 to prevent Fr. Sam Wagner, a priest of the New Ulm Diocese, from contacting her.

The petition reports an “inappropriate relationship with a New Ulm priest” earlier this year and details portions of more than 1,500 social media messages between the two, according to the order.

Wagner was investigated by New Ulm police this year when the alleged relationship were reported to them. The Brown County Attorney’s office has suspended the case without filing charges at this time, citing a lack of evidence to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Wagner remains suspended from ministry pending a review by the Diocesan Clergy Review Board.

Granted Aug. 4 in Brown County District Court, the two-year order against Wagner, who served at The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New Ulm between 2014 and 2016, detailed Facebook messages between him and the student between March 17, 2015 and Dec. 27, 2016.

Text messages transcribed in the affidavit included Wagner trying to stop the texting between himself and the teen. A few weeks later, he messaged her that she could message him when she wanted to.

“I really want to help, but people are saying things that are very serious,” Wagner texted at 12:20 a.m. Sept. 30, 2016. “I know our relationship was pure the whole time, but I was a little uncomfortable about the frequency(…) No matter what anyone says, I will always be a spiritual father to you. Even if I can’t always be available.”

“I’m sorry I had to back off for awhile,” Wagner texted the teen Nov. 4, 2016. “FYI, you can message me when you want to. Hope you can forgive me when backing out when I did. I want to help you but we must keep this relationship appropriate, if you know what I mean. Here is the thing. For this to work, it must be a holy relationship. If it is not, there will be rumors and then I will not be able to help.”

On Nov. 20, 2016, Wagner texted the teen, saying he “really can’t be a friend to a student like yourself and I was wrong to think otherwise.”

The teen’s mother felt the relationship would continue, because Wagner “continues to break it (the relationship) off, but keeps coming back,” according to the petition.

Under the order, Wagner is to have no contact with the teen, whether in person, with or through other persons, by telephone, email, through electronic devices, social media, through a third party, or by any other means until Aug. 3, 2019.

New Ulm Police reported Aug. 25 that an investigation that began in January after a report was received about a juvenile female involved in an “inappropriate relationship” with Wagner.

An investigation report that included interviews with several people and a review of digital evidence sent to the Brown County Attorney’s Office resulted in no charges filed. The case was suspended due to lack of evidence and the inability to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, according to Brown County Attorney Chuck Hanson.

A hearing regarding the order was set for Sept. 25 in Brown County District Court.

A statement by the Diocese in January announced the investigation and said it was diocesan policy to remove a clergy member from ministry when misconduct allegations are made, without regard to any determination of credibility. It is done to allow all parties to give the investigation their full attention.

“The diocese takes any allegations of clergy misconduct very seriously, regardless of whether they result in charges. Wagner remains on leave from public ministry pending a final determination of his status by the Clergy Review Board,” the statement said.

The allegations came from Wagner’s tenure at Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New Ulm between 2014 and 2016.

In July 2016, he was assigned to serve as parochial vicar in the Divine Mercy Area Faith Community, St. Mary’s, Sleepy Eye; Japanese Martyrs in Leavenworth, St. Michael in Morgan; and St. Paul, Comfrey.

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