Diocese of Fargo priest arrested on suspicion of committing sexual exploitation

(For Immediate Release February 3, 2023)

A North Dakota priest, removed from ministry last month pending an investigation of "inappropriate conduct," was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of committing "sexual exploitation by therapist." We applaud the brave victims for speaking up and contacting the police about this young priest. Contrary to what Catholic bishops say, clergy sexual abuse is NOT a thing of the past. This is the third arrest that we know of in 2023. Moreover, these arrests are likely a drop in the bucket, because only between 2 and 10 out of 100 victims of clerical abuse report within a year of being molested, and one-third never, ever report.

Fr. Neil Joseph Pfeifer, 48, was arrested in Rugby, North Dakota, and taken to the Pierce County Correctional Facility, where he awaits formal charges. Bishop John Folda of the Diocese of Fargo said in a statement, “Father Pfeifer remains out of ministry as pastor of the Basilica of St. James in Jamestown, St. Margaret Mary in Buchanan, and St. Mathias in Windsor, pending the outcome of the criminal investigation."

Bishop John Folda also noted in his statement that "The Diocese of Fargo is cooperating fully with the investigation." We find it unsettling that Catholic officials always emphasize how cooperative they are when a victim comes forward. We suspect this is an outright attempt to disassociate themselves from the horror of sex-related crimes, and to make it appear to parishioners and the general public that they were totally clueless.

Instead of routinely practicing this “damage control,” Church leaders should be reminding people that crimes involving sex are still prevalent among ordained clergy and professed religious. In fact, perpetrators become more shrewd, cunning, and effective over time, because they learn how to better pick victims who cannot tell or will not be believed.

We are grateful that the investigation has been moved into the secular realm. Independent professionals in law enforcement should investigate crimes, not the biased and often corrupt amateurs in Church offices. Beyond "cooperating" with the criminal investigation, the Bishop of Fargo should make it a point to visit every place where Fr. Pfeifer worked and urge those who may have experienced, witnessed, or suspected abuse to contact the police immediately. We hope the victims' courage will prod others with information about Fr. Pfeifer to step forward, get help, call police, protect others, and start healing.


CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager ([email protected] 267-261-0578) 

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

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