Ex-pastor in court today for sex charges
Editor's note: This story is excerpted from a two-part series that appeared last week in the Park Rapids (Minn.) Enterprise. PARK RAPIDS, Minn. -- A former Lutheran pastor in Lake George, Minn., southwest of Bemidji near Itasca State Park, faces ...
Editor's note: This story is excerpted from a two-part series that appeared last week in the Park Rapids (Minn.) Enterprise.
PARK RAPIDS, Minn. -- A former Lutheran pastor in Lake George, Minn., southwest of Bemidji near Itasca State Park, faces an omnibus court hearing today in Park Rapids on 15 counts of criminal sexual conduct involving a minor.
Now, questions have been raised about how much officials of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod knew of Schauer's previous conviction for sexually abusing a pre-teen minor and whether his parishioners in Trinity Lutheran at Lake George knew of his criminal past at all.
Darwin Schauer was a trained lay pastor since 1990, first at Immanuel Lutheran in Cass Lake, Minn., then at Trinity at Lake George when the two parishes merged in 2000.
Schauer, who is 70, retired in 2008. Last month, a minor told officials in Hubbard County that Schauer began sexually abusing the minor in 2009 when the minor was 10.
The charges have former parishioners wondering about their former lay pastor's tenure with them because he had been convicted in 1983 for sexually abusing a minor for several years, beginning when the child was in second grade.
At the time, Schauer was a teacher and principal in a Lutheran elementary school in southern Minnesota.
Nearly 30 years ago in that case, a state district judge in Nicollet County suggested Schauer might be too self-righteous to appreciate the seriousness of his fall from grace.
Schauer was incensed, according to 1983 court transcripts, that authorities had come into his home and hauled him off to jail in front of his family. He thought he'd been "stereotyped" as a sexual pervert. He verbally disagreed with the judge during his arraignment as to the charges he was facing.
Now, Schauer is in jail in Park Rapids, under $1 million bond, or $750,000 with certain conditions, including surrendering his passport.
The pious pastor who colleagues said knew Scripture like the back of his hand, was dressed in faded jail orange, listening to another judge read his charges aloud.
It was excruciating to hear.
Born in 1941 in Green Isle, Minn., Schauer served in the Army, and worked on his family's farm, before attending Concordia College in St. Paul, where he graduated in 1971, according to a school official.
By 1978, he was married with four children and a teacher and administrator at a Lutheran school in Courtland, Minn. Soon, he began a sexual relationship with the child, who left a note for the child's mother about it in 1983, after nearly four years of the abuse.
Once he was charged with a sex crime in 1983, he lost his job. Because his family lived in a school-owned home across the street, they were evicted at the end of the school year. Schauer's wife applied for welfare and food stamps.
Schauer pleaded guilty, but criticized the legal system's handling of his case, saying he was being treated "as a, I suppose, a murderer would be," according to court records.
After Schauer had been released early from a sex offender program in the state Security hospital in St. Peter because it needed the space, Judge Noah S. Rosenbloom told him:
"I find a great deal of hypocrisy implicit in the nature of your offense," the judge said. "Somehow, I get the feeling from you that the undeniable sacrifice you have made in order to pursue your parochial school educational career -- which incorporates some elements of ministry, I am aware of that -- plus your strong faith, that all of these things somehow make it different or somehow casts what you did in a different light"
"You would not be the first person with high-minded ideals and good social commitment to be blinded thereby to the fact, like everybody else, you are human and as humans we are all capable of reprehensible conduct at times and under certain circumstances," Rosenbloom continued.
"The delusion is that somehow because of our high-mindedness we haven't done the things that we have in fact done, and I get the feeling, and I have from the beginning, that on your part, you still haven't come to grips with what you really did." The judge mentioned Schauer's previously clean record, adding, "but there is also this strong strain of hypocrisy. Maybe it's because, given the strict requirements of your faith and your commitment, you can't bring yourself to confront some of your needs."
"I am concerned, incident to all of this, that you seem to have a tendency to manipulate your friends and family to meet your self-perceived needs, without apparent understanding at times of what the impact of those needs were on other people." With that, the judge sentenced Schauer to 43 months incarceration, but set aside the sentence as long as Schauer got sex offender treatement.
It's not clear how long he stayed in the program, partly because for privacy reasons the records aren't available. But in 1983, Minnesota didn't yet have a registry for sex offenders.
By 1986, Schauer was returning to work.
Judge Rosenbloom acknowledged "you've made good progress I think, from everything I can see, this is a success story, and I hope it continues to be." But his wife had divorced him in 1985 after spending two years on welfare and leaving town because of the shame.
"She had a pretty rough couple of years," said one woman familiar with the case, who asked that her name not be used.
Schauer soon reached out to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod officials, saying he felt called to minister and serve the church. The St. Louis-based LCMS, the nation's second-largest Lutheran body with 2.3 million members, has roots in German immigrants to America in the mid-19th century. It's more conservative in doctrine than the larger Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
An LCMS pastor told Schauer because of his past, he could not be ordained as a clergy member, but could take a lay pastor training program. By summer 1990, he was certified to serve at Concordia College in Mequon, Wis.
That made Schauer eligible to be placed as a lay pastor in LCMS congregations, said the Rev. Don Fondow, president of the LCMS's district in northern Minnesota. Schauer's first placement was with Immanuel Lutheran Church of Cass Lake, then Trinity Lutheran Church of Lake George, where he was commissioned as a lay minister. Initially a Blackduck pastor mentored or supervised him, allegedly aware of Schauer's criminal history.
His congregations had no idea a sexual predator was now rendering pastoral care to them.
"When I became district president, he was already in place and so what was said if anything at that time about anything, I don't know," Fondow said, noting he came to the district in 2003.
Fondow's predecessor, now deceased, came to the region at some point to mediate a disagreement Schauer had with another pastor. Schauer and the supervisor discussed Schauer's past at that time. The church official had come armed with a newspaper article from 1983, apparently sent by another church officials, about Schauer's 1983 guilty plea and sentence.
Schauer had no problem discussing his past in a frank manner. But later, some colleagues wondered if he had so compartmentalized his life that he truly believed he was discussing another person, not himself.
It isn't clear how many times Schauer married and divorced after 1985.
The only record located indicated a default divorce without children from a woman in 2003, while the couple lived in Cass Lake. Acquaintances say he is now married to his fourth spouse. He has two biological sons from his first marriage, who are estranged from him and live in southern Minnesota.
His congregations in the merged parish of Lake George and Cass Lake were still not informed of his past and he retired in 2008, replaced by the Rev. Don Kirchner.
Kirchner made an initial statement when the 2012 charges were filed, but has deferred all questions to LCMS district officials, including the Rev. Fondow.
Suspicions began swirling through Trinity Lutheran Church of Lake George about late 2007, but it is unclear how much the congregation knew about the sexual predator in their midst.
One of Schauer's responsibilities at the church was to teach Communion classes to teens.
About 2007, there had been extensive church discussions among synod leaders as to whether Schauer could or should be ordained, so it was apparent church officials knew of his past. The ordination never took place.
Schauer retired voluntarily in 2008, Fondow said.
He declined to discuss what the church knew and when officials knew about Schauer's past.
When asked how long he had known of Schauer's past, Fondow replied, "That part, I can't comment on." But Fondow assured the two parishes regardless of the sins Schauer may have committed in the past, their marriages and baptisms are not subject to question.
"They're not invalid," Fondow said. "The thing here is, all I can say here is according to the record I've seen is that he was certified and placed according to the procedure and process to place a lay minister."
With the latest arrest stemming from the minor child's accusations last month about abuse beginning in 2009, recriminations and second-guessing have begun.
One former Courtland resident is suspicious and wonders how many victims may come forward from the past three decades.
"You don't go from 1983 and then do nothing and then in 2009 decided you're interested in (a child) again," she said.
He's so slick. What if this all got pushed aside again? And then he continues to do things."
Fondow doesn't accept any blame.
"I simply say with the congregation, it's one of those things that if as things transpire as they should, I just don't want to see them have to pay for something this man did," he said.
Is the church liable, he was asked.
"Not that I would say," adding, "And the other thing I would say is right now, he'll be removed. That process is already in effect right now. He'll be removed as being a rostered church worker.
"As things have transpired over the years here just like the laws of the land, right now we have a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of sexual impropriety," Fondow said.
Kirchner is trying to stay out of the case, even though he has visited Schauer in the Hubbard County Law Enforcement Center a couple of times since the arrest.
"I have a congregation to heal," he said quietly.