Ash Wednesday marked the first day of Lent, a six-week long repentance leading up to Easter. A day of great importance to Christians everywhere was overshadowed in the St. Cloud Catholic community when a local priest wound up behind bars.
51-year-old Anthony Oelrich was arrested on February 13 on pending charges of 3rd-degree criminal sexual conduct, according to the St. Cloud Police department. The charges stem from a sexual relationship with an adult female spanning from 2013 to 2014 while Oelrich was offering the victim spiritual advice. The State of Minnesota bans clergy members from being in any sexual relationships in this type of situation.
“He was always a good person around me,” said Bryant Bohlig, a Peer Minister at the Christ Church Newman Center. “We just don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.”
Bohlig, who is also a student at SCSU, worked closely with Oelrich for the last two years at the Newman Center. He was intensely shocked as he heard the news of his arrest, something that was reiterated by other students who regularly attended Oelrich’s sermons.
” [Oelrich] A great priest… I was completely surprised by the situation,” said a female student on campus, for privacy asked not to print her name.
The SCSU junior said she goes to mass every Sunday and never saw telling behavior. She said she believes there are always two types of reactions when these situations happen. You either expect it, or you don’t
Oelrich was ordained a priest in 1992 at St. Mary’s Cathedral and raised in Milaca. He became a pastor the Newman Center from 2007-2018, which is only a block away from SCSU dorms.
Bishop Donald Kettler of the Diocese of St. Cloud, removed Oelrich as pastor of Christ Church Newman Center according to a statement released on February 14. He also suspended any ability to present himself as a priest, until an outcome is reached.
The statement came just one month after Bishop Kettler announced the addition of another name being added to the list of clergy members likely to have abused children in the Diocese. A list that now consists of more than 35 names.
The Newman Center is a Catholic Student Community and considers itself “The Catholic Church for Campus” according to their website. Newman Centers are across the country with a mission to minister to Catholic students who attend secular and non-Catholic universities.
The Diocese of St. Cloud wants all victims of abuse to come forward. Contact information for Advocates and county officials can be found online at http://stcdio.org/about/safe-environment/how-to-report-abuse.