A Notre Dame Academy graduate alleged abuse by priests, then died by suicide. Over 400 alumni demand answers.
DE PERE - Graduates of four Catholic high schools are demanding action from St. Norbert Abbey after its leader disputed allegations of sexual abuse lodged by a fellow alumnus who died by suicide in March.
The call for change came after the Green Bay Press-Gazette published an investigation detailing the story of Nate Lindstrom, who said three Norbertine priests abused him as a teenager in Green Bay in the late 1980s. Lindstrom received $420,000 in secret payments from the Catholic order over 10 years until the abbey stopped sending checks in 2019.
Lindstrom, 45, killed himself less than a year later.
Over 400 graduates of Notre Dame Academy and the former Premontre High School, Abbot Pennings and St. Joseph Academy signed a letter sent Wednesday to the Norbertines and Notre Dame officials imploring them to address Lindstrom's allegations. Signees include members of Lindstrom's family and Anne Horak Gallagher, an actress and wife of U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher of Green Bay.
The Norbertines operated Premontre and Abbot Pennings in the Green Bay area before both schools merged with St. Joseph Academy to form Notre Dame in 1990. Lindstrom started high school at Premontre but graduated from Notre Dame.
"We know and understand that you are in a very precarious situation as it relates to all of this, but if you as an institution and community in charge of our children, and individually as Christians, don’t acknowledge and address this situation then who will?" the letter states.
The alumni letter also points to the school's Catholic values and asks leaders "to call out individuals who walk among us that have broken the commitment to these values, harmed others within our community and tried to cover up their transgressions."
Notre Dame issued a statement to alumni Friday — nine months after Lindstrom's death — expressing condolences to his family and loved ones.
"Notre Dame Academy is a learning and working environment that labors to be free from all forms of abuse and harassment, and insists that all staff and students be treated with dignity, respect and courtesy," the statement said.
'We looked up to these people'
Lindstrom began receiving monthly checks of $3,500 in 2009 after his parents complained to abbey leaders about the harm their son suffered from being assaulted by at least one priest. Lindstrom and his parents never sued or signed a contract, they said, and the agreement had no termination date.
"The only intention with this money was pastoral in nature and to help Nathan with counseling and personal expenses," former Abbot Gary Neville wrote in a letter to the Press-Gazette before the article was published.
Neville told Lindstrom in 2018 that the payments would soon end, and Lindstrom reported allegations against two more priests several weeks after that notice. The abbey hired a risk management firm called Praesidium to investigate the new claims and found them to be not credible.
The order agreed to provide Lindstrom with support for one more year, ending in May 2019.
In response to the Press-Gazette article, Abbot Dane Radecki published a letter on the abbey's website emphasizing Praesidium's findings but said the news of Lindstrom's death "brings much pain" to the local and Norbertine communities.
"Many are saddened, including me, because of the great harm caused by abuse especially by members of our community," Radecki wrote. "On behalf of the Norbertine community, I humbly ask for your forgiveness."
Radecki also pointed to the abbey's list of 22 priests with "credible" abuse allegations against them and said the Norbertines and Diocese of Green Bay have sponsored an annual healing retreat for victims and their families.
"Our community believes that the protection of children is the highest priority," Radecki wrote. "For the last two decades, we have worked towards rebuilding trust within the local community and acknowledging shortcomings. The Norbertines stand with accusers, victims and survivors, and those accused, working with local authorities to verify the credibility of each accusation."
However, the statement drew swift rebuke from community members and alumni who accused the Norbertines of covering up sexual abuse. Supporters of Lindstrom flooded the abbey's Facebook page with critical comments using the hashtag #IBelieveNate, and some shared their own memories of the priests.
An abbey spokesman referred a reporter to Radecki's letter and declined to answer questions. Radecki declined multiple interview requests from the Press-Gazette over the course of its investigation into Lindstrom's allegations.
Two days after the abbot published his letter, 20 of Lindstrom's friends and relatives gathered outside the abbey during Sunday Mass with signs from a previous demonstration that said "Stop clergy abuse" and "Nate's wrongful death." A police officer monitored the group as cars drove by honking in support.
"Things were not as they seemed back then," said Laurence Chetcuti, a Notre Dame alumnus who lived with Lindstrom in college. "We looked up to these people. We thought that they were great."