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Fargo Diocese offers more details of lead-up to Anamoose priest attack

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The Rev. Robert Wapenski, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in Anamoose, N.D. Catholic Diocese of Fargo / Special to The Forum2 / 3
Chad Legare3 / 3

FARGO — The Catholic Diocese of Fargo issued a statement Friday, Feb. 9, providing more details of its involvement in the events preceding the attack of a priest in Anamoose, N.D.

Father Robert Wapenski of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Anamoose, a town of 250 people about 100 miles northeast of Bismarck, was strangled by Chad Legare inside the priest's home the morning of Jan. 30, according to court records.

Legare, of Alexandria, Minn., was arrested Monday, Feb. 5, and is charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and burglary, all felonies. At his first court appearance in North Dakota's McHenry County District Court Thursday, Feb. 8, Legare called Wapenski a rapist.

In its statement Friday, the Diocese said Legare brought an accusation of inappropriate behavior to the attention of the Diocese in an online report in December 2017 and in person in January 2018, but Legare didn't identify the victim or priest.

"The Diocese encouraged Mr. Legare to have the alleged victim report the incident or to make a report himself," the statement read. "A few days later Mr. Legare revealed for the first time that these allegations involved Father Robert Wapenski and the alleged victim."

The statement continued: "At that time, the Diocese again encouraged Mr. Legare to report the allegations and further encouraged him to have the alleged victim contact the Diocese. Later that same day, Mr. Legare informed the Diocese that he had contacted police."

Asked why the Diocese didn't file a report with police when made aware of the alleged misconduct, Diocese spokesman Paul Braun said Legare was told to contact police. Braun said the situation involved adults with firsthand knowledge of the alleged crime who should report it.

Braun said the Diocese complied with all mandatory reporting laws.

In its statement, the Diocese said it "made several attempts to contact the alleged victim," but she didn't respond.

The statement said Legare told the Diocese Jan.16 that he "made a mistake with all this." The Diocese also said the unnamed victim on Jan. 22 "denied all allegations against Fr. Wapenski to the Diocese."

Attempts to reach Wapenski and Legare, who remains in custody, have been unsuccessful.

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyatt is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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