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The Diocese of Rapid City would have a public face in the community

The Diocese of Rapid City is working on creating a new pastoral center in the Black Hills Federal Credit Union building on Main Street in Rapid City. The credit union is selling this building and will move into a new facility across the street in a couple months. (WRC photo)


The Living the Mission Campaign is moving into full swing. The pilot phase has been successfully completed and the parishes in block one are fully engaged in the process. I am not only pleased, but deeply grateful for the generosity that I have seen thus far in the campaign. It speaks of peoples’ holy desire to live the mission of Jesus Christ, helping the diocese to move forward with what has been laid out in the Diocesan Priority Plan beginning in 2015. It is my hope that we are well on our way to a very successful campaign.

I would like to take the opportunity to update you on a very important priority for the Diocese of Rapid City. It too, was a key priority outlined in the Diocesan Priority Plan — a new pastoral center to include not only the chancery (offices of the bishop, diocesan administration and the archives) but also the offices of the personnel who provide pastoral ministry throughout the diocese. Before I do so, let’s look back for a moment.

As we recall, phase two of the We Walk By Faith appeal had originally planned for the renovation of space at Terra Sancta to be used for all of our diocesan offices. Due to lack of space at the main chancery located next to the cathedral, several departments were moved to the Terra Sancta Retreat Center on the northwest side of Rapid City — not the most ideal situation. The archives and the offices of our ministries including Faith Formation, Family Life Ministries, Youth and Young Adult Ministry, Stewardship, Vocations, the Marriage Tribunal, and Native American Ministry, are all currently located at Terra Sancta. Because of the overwhelming success of the Terra Sancta Retreat Center and the increase in diocesan staff, the retreat center is no longer a viable option as a new home for our diocesan offices. Our staff has almost doubled in the seven and a half years that I have been here.

Currently, my staff is spread across three buildings in two locations. At the main Chancery located near the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, we have some staff using space that was originally intended as a closet and file room. We also have staff who work different days each week in order to share a desk and shelf space. We have a very limited number of conference rooms which must be shared by many departments and 40 staff people. The longer these types of issues persist, the more difficult and costly it will be to address.

It has always been my desire to have a new pastoral center that will meet current and future needs more centrally located in Rapid City as a matter of convenience for the people we serve, at least locally. We have been quietly looking for a building that would provide adequate space for a couple of years. When we completed the facility master plan for the Terra Sancta campus a year and a half ago, we included a new pastoral center to be built there because we

already owned the land.

Last February, we became aware that the Black Hills Federal Credit Union building at 225 Main Street was coming on the market in the near future. We toured the building and began a conversation with the owners about the possibility of purchasing it. At the same time we had our architect look at it to determine if the facility had adequate space based on our initial plan for a new pastoral center on the Terra Sancta campus. We also had an appraisal and

inspection completed to assist us in determining if this could be a possibility for a new pastoral center.

My own excitement grew as I thought of the possibility of having the presence of the Catholic Church in downtown Rapid City. What a blessing that would be!

Over the course of the past ten months, we have been in negotiations with Black Hills Federal Credit Union to purchase this building. After a renovation process, it would provide enough office space to meet our current and future needs, allowing all of our staff to be together under one roof as well as ample parking for chancery staff and visitors — not to mention that the downtown location will give the diocese a very public face in our community.

I am very happy to say that we have recently signed a purchase agreement to acquire the building and the parking lots surrounding the Credit Union. We have agreed upon a four million dollar purchase price and could take possession in late February or March,

depending upon how soon Black Hills Federal Credit Union is able to vacate the building and move into their new building across the street. With the remodeling necessary to accommodate the unique features and space requirements of a pastoral center, we believe that this option will cost $1-1.5 million less than a new building. The renovation process could take ten to twelve months.

We have been in our current location since 1975, serving the needs of the diocese from there for approximately 44 years. Like most families, most companies move multiple times in a 44 year history. I believe this new pastoral center will serve the needs of the Diocese of Rapid City for many, many years to come and also allow us to be the face of Christ to those we serve in the heart of Rapid City! That is the true blessing!


Blinded by greed and lust traffickers trample human dignity

Blinded by greed and lust traffickers trample human dignity

“Human trafficking couldn’t happen in small South Dakota towns,” was the first notion dispelled by speakers at the Human Trafficking Awareness Conference in Rapid City.

The March 24 gathering was sponsored by the Diocesan Social Justice Commission under the direction of the Office of Family Life Ministries, Catholic Social Services, and the Newman Centers in Spearfish and Rapid City.

In his opening remarks, Bishop Robert Gruss said, “Pope Francis attaches enormous importance to the millions of men, women and children who are trafficked and enslaved.” In Pope Francis’ 2015 World Day of Peace message he called for a mobilization effort as big as the phenomena itself to defeat it. The pope said human trafficking, “is an atrocious scourge on the body of Christ.”

Bishop Gruss added, “While certain factors make some populations exceptionally vulnerable to human trafficking … anyone can be a victim. There is no segment of the human population that is immune to this issue.” He explained it is a low risk and highly lucrative enterprise speculated to gross $150 billion a year. He concluded his remarks with a prayer for the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita who was enslaved as a child, bought and sold, and treated brutally. (See boxed prayer.)

David Natvig, the director of the Division of Criminal Investigations for the Attorney General for the State of S.D., was the first expert speaker. He brought with him several statistics about the problems.

“Worldwide there are 25 million people enslaved and another 15 million in forced marriages,” said Natvig. He explained trafficking does not require movement. “You can be trafficked in your home,” he said referring to cases where people are exploited for sex by people they know.

He used a power point presentation that listed human trafficking statistics for sex at 71 percent, for labor 15 percent, for combined sex and labor 4 percent, and the remainder for unspecified reasons. He said the tactics used by traffickers include job offers, selling family members or passing as a benefactor.

“We try to prosecute as much as possible in the Federal Courts because federal laws require a minimum sentence,” said Natvig.

Kevin Koliner is the Assistant U.S. Attorney in S.D. One of the first cases he prosecuted concerned labor trafficking in Oacoma, near Chamberlain. “People in town said, ‘There is a guy over at the hotel who has 12 wives and some odd stuff going on.’” It turned out women were being used for hotel and fast food laborers.

Koliner cited the working definition of trafficking as “compelling someone to work or engage in a commercial sex act or using a minor to engage in a commercial sex act.” Coercion can be receiving anything of value: money, drugs, free rent, beer or a tank of gas. For juvenile ages 17-years-old and under state law does not require the prosecution to show coercion.

It is a federal case if there is any interstate commerce — using products not manufactured in S.D., interstate highways, or even the internet. In the past 20 years federal laws have been updated from Civil War statutes to reflect modern day slavery. Nationally there have been 14 life sentences handed down for sex trafficking and eight of those were in S.D.

Koliner said there have been 50 cases prosecuted in S.D. “This happens everywhere, what makes S.D. different is we have dedicated (state and federal) investigating agents, U.S. Attorneys and State Attorney Generals who have made this a priority. It means the best and brightest get put on these cases.

“We have five of the 10 poorest counties in the U.S. About 50 percent of the victims I have worked with are enrolled (Native American) tribal members in those counties. It’s a national embarrassment. In many ways it is a crime of poverty, addiction and prior sexual abuse that needs to be talked about in relationship to those communities.”

Getting witnesses is difficult for prosecutors. He said, “We have victims who are 15 or 16-year-old girls who are embarrassed to talk about details. These are usually people who have not had good experiences with law enforcement and are hesitant to report to us.”

Becky Rasmussen is a public speaker, social advocate and a Protestant minister. She helped establish Call to Freedom in Sioux Falls. It is an anti-human trafficking safe haven that helps victims of trafficking in their office and in conjunction with other social services agencies.

“We work with local law enforcement, medical personnel, and shelters on protocols and responses. I don’t ever look at a boy or girl as choosing that life style. How many three or four-year-old children want to grow up to be prostitutes?” she asked.

The scope of sex trafficking includes prostitution; pornographic photos, websites and films; sex tourism; and forced marriages. Labor victims mostly work in sweatshops, migrant farming, restaurants, manufacturing and contracting. Traffickers identify people who are vulnerable to recruit and use threats and violence to instill fear in the victims. She said some victims cannot speak English and have no one to ask for help.

While many donors have been very generous with Call to Freedom, to receive federal funds applicants need to demonstrate a need. Rasmussen explained statistic keeping for that purpose needs to be streamlined and combined by the agencies which have contact with victims.

She added there is little recrimination against customers. “Buyers fuel the demand and if you don’t address that, you don’t address trafficking,” she said.

Jim Kinyon, executive director of Catholic Social Services, correlated viewing pornography and human trafficking.

“Right now, every second in the U.S. over 28,000 users are looking at pornography, while the vast majority of internet users are looking at free images, more than $3,000 per second is spent on porn. Porn sites have more users than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined,” he said. His research revealed consumers spending 8-12 hours each day viewing porn, most are male, but one-third of viewers are female.

He quoted statistics showing that in 2009 there were 251 registered sex offenders in Pennington County and in 2019 there are 346. It is proportional to the national increase of 25 to 30 percent in that time. He said most sex offenders never see prosecution or jail time.

“We are creating an appetite for every type of twisted perverse behavior. Porn is a pastime for millions in our country. What do we do when we realize what a tremendous impact that has on the human mind, appetites and disorders,” said Kinyon. “In the name of freedom what are we enslaving ourselves to?”

He showed slides demonstrating the effects of addiction to porn, drugs and alcohol on human brains. The parts of the brain that register pleasure show little or no dopamine.That is why the abusers futilely attempt increasing stimulation to spark their pleasure centers.

Supervisory Special Agent Brent Gromer is the Internet Crimes Against Children Commander for the State of South Dakota. Among the investigations  his office conducts are sting operations for offenders interested in exploiting children for sexual gratification — usually publicized after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. There have been 48 arrests and over half of those charged are local citizens he said, emphasizing problems in our own communities.

“We are starting to see more and more of a nexus between human trafficking and the internet,” said Gromer. “In the past 10 years our internet crimes unit has worked approximately 400 cases statewide.”

Showing a slide of internet icons he said,  “Now there is a red light district in every town in South Dakota. You place access to that in every child’s hand when you give them a cell phone.”

He also said that legislation is trying to keep up with it. The federal government shut down backpage.com. “We are seeing people going to other websites,” said Gromer. He said a lot of sites are operated in foreign countries that do not have the same laws which hampers investigating those crimes.

“It took me 20 years to understand that even if we don’t get a conviction the case can be successful if we made a difference in someone’s life,” he said.

Agreeing with Jim Kinyon on the desire to escalate stimulation he said the progression of pornography eventually turns to child pornography.  Then it will include torturing and abusing children. “Where do they go from there … they go to hands on abuse against children. There is nothing in our society that is more taboo than sex with a child,” he said.

Rev. Tess Franzen is a licensed minister with Assemblies of God. She is the founder and executive director of Freedom’s Journey in Rapid City. It assists survivors of all types of human trafficking.

“It is so encouraging whenever an organization comes to us and says ‘hey, we want to increase awareness of human trafficking, can you join in?’” she said. “The more of us who are aware of what is happening, the better odds we have of ending it.”

She began college after her youngest child was age 18. She holds both bachelors and masters degrees. “The whole time I was in college I knew God was asking me to do something to address human trafficking. I just didn’t know what it was,” she said.

She worked with FREE International in Las Vegas which is an anti-human trafficking organization. “I knew then that God was calling me to address human trafficking right here,” she said. “It is something that happens in every community in America.”

She researched and found there were no coordinated efforts to address human trafficking here. Every organization she contacted — law enforcement, Homeland Security, social service agencies and religious leaders sent representatives to help out with a task force. For the past three years that task force has been working successfully to pass state legislation to decriminalize prostitution for 16 and 17 year olds. “We maintain that there is no such thing as a child prostitute, there are prostituted children,” she said. The group had already gotten legislation passed that children under age 15 cannot be arrested for prostitution.

July 1, when the new law is enacted, children in the 16 and 17-year-old age range involved with prostitution will be put in the Child in Need of Supervision Program in this state. The task force will be working on more legislation next year.

According to Reverend Franzen, traffickers and people who pay for sex, whether it is a minor or an unwilling adult, have to dehumanize victims.

“If we truly value people as the unique creations of God that they are, we could never use them,” she said. “We cannot watch the news today and fail to see there are some broken things and broken people in our culture.”

She started Freedom’s Journey in 2016 to address the challenges faced by people exiting slavery. Her clients “have been wounded in ways you and I can’t imagine. They need safe people to walk with them,” she said.

Kelly Patterson was trafficked in and around South Dakota as a child. Today, she is a pastor at Restored Life Outreach Fellowship, Rapid City; a wife and mother in a blended family; and a grandmother. She authored a book, “From Trafficked to Treasured,” to illuminate prostitution trafficking rings.

She said the types of traffickers/pimps seen predominantly in the Midwest are Romeo pimps — boyfriends or spouses; Gang/motorcycle club trafficking; familial trafficking, and ring trafficking. Ring trafficking is a criminal organization involved in sex trafficking utilizing several people in various locations.

Polaris Project, founded in 2002, works to end human trafficking. According to Patterson, Polaris has received phone calls from every county of every state in the nation.

According to Patterson the reason she told her story now is news stories on trafficking in this state didn’t cover it to the extent to which she knew it was happening.

At age 4 she was a molested by a man who knew her family; things escalated quickly afterwards. The people responsible were authority figures in her community.

“I assumed there was something wrong with me. What was this thing and why was this thing a secret? I was warned and warned ‘you don’t tell,’” she said.

The average life expectancy of someone in prostitution is 7 years. The average age of induction is 12-13 according to reports she has read.

She was kept in prostitution by threats against her family, sexual assaults and torture.

She said she was pushed into escort services, films, parties, and strip clubs. To keep her weight at 98 pounds her traffickers only allowed her to eat one can of  tomato soup, a candy bar and a cola daily. She added more than 80 percent of survivors have horrific health problems.

Losing a third baby, combined with someone looking her in the eyes and

acknowledging her as a human being and not an object, gave her the guts to try to get out at age of 22. She said 99 percent of the people trafficked die in the system.

“God had a bigger purpose,” she said. “I’d like you to pray for me in all that I do in the future and for all of us doing this work.”

She concluded with a quote from

Benjamin Franklin: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

Despite scandal, faith still alive in young adults

I had a blessed surprise right before Christmas. I was celebrating Mass at St. Thomas More Middle/High School and three young adults, STM alumni home from college, came to Mass several days in a row at 7:15 a.m.

I was not expecting this, especially given the recent crisis in our church.  The constant barrage of news stories about sexual abuse by even high-ranking clergy, and how some bishops have mishandled the repeated allegations of abuse, have caused many to question both the church and her leaders’ ability to shepherd and lead.

To see three young college students home for Christmas break and at daily Mass roused in my heart a sense of hope and joy. I shared with them what seeing them at daily Mass did for my heart.

I asked them what it is like to be a believing, practicing young adult Catholic at this challenging moment in the church. All three shared that this has been a difficult time for them. Madison Feist said it has been hard to accept but, at the same time, she is grateful that the church is accepting the reality of the past and wants to make things better. 

Corbin Olson has found his own faith being tested and Dillon Johnson continues to pray for clarity in the church. He added, “The Eucharist gives me the strength to continue defending our Catholic faith, even in times of trial.”

In fact, all three shared with me that it is their love of the Eucharist that brings them to Mass.

“In the Eucharist, I am united with Jesus who brings me eternal joy. The Eucharist unites the world together, and when I receive the Eucharist, I think of family members, friends, faculty and all the people who have impacted my faith journey. Mass unites me to my foundation in Christ,” Madison said.   

Corbin added, “Christ’s light will always shine. I find myself looking for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour to spend with our Savior in adoration, and I push myself to attend daily Mass because, in all of this, I am searching for his light. God is ever-present, but he is waiting for us to accept him into our lives. I have realized in the past couple of months that I have to make an effort to call on him in the easiest and most difficult of times. We must be willing to put absolute faith and trust in him.”

As I visited with these three young adults who are practicing their faith in these trying times in our church, my heart was drawn to our seminarians: What is it like to be in the seminary at this moment in time?

Max Vetch, a sophomore at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, shared, “It is a strange thing to hear about these cases on the news or from other seminarians from their diocese, but it all kind of changes when it is from your own diocese. I am just as confused and angry as everyone else is. What is most frustrating is that these things happen in almost every diocese.

 “At the seminary, we are very aware of everything going on, even if we turn off the news and don’t look at social media. The faculty at IHM is very focused on making good, holy men, and this can only be done through a good awareness of self and the world around us.

 “So we visit about these things — both my brother seminarians and the faculty. We discuss it so that we can grow in holiness. Many people would think that these cases are a deterrent from the seminary, but for the men at IHM, I haven’t seen that at all. The seminarians at IHM are there to discern a vocation given them by God, and no problem or scandal can take that calling away.”

Robert Kinyon, a first-year theologian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome told me, “The recent sexual abuse crisis has been deeply saddening. On a number of different occasions, it has shaken my trust in the church, especially those who are in particularly authoritative positions.

 “Despite all the disheartening and frustrating news, Jesus Christ remains the same. He is still laboring to love me during every moment of every day. Jesus, the head, has not and will not abandon his body, the church.

“I am continuing my formation for priesthood because Jesus Christ continues to lavish his love upon me and his entire church, as broken and wounded as we may be. Before all else, we must tear open our hearts to receive an outpouring of his personal love.”

Father Paul Hoesing, dean of seminarians and director of human formation at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, shared with me his perception of the climate of seminary life at this time.

“I believe a very healthy, righteous anger has been awakened in these scandals. As a result, there has been no better time to address the tough issues of mental health, chastity and psycho-sexual development. 

“The scandals reveal what is at stake. Only a truly healthy priest can serve the people of God. The people of God are weary. They deserve good shepherds.

“The scandals reveal the need for a truly spousal life on the part of the priest — priests who are willing to lay down their lives for their bride, the church. Otherwise, the priesthood is seen as a strange or dangerous bachelorhood. 

“I see our young men eager to move into a new and vigorous courage in this regard. For the sake of the victims and the bride, the church, the men are responding with a new level of honesty and generosity in answering the question, ‘Where is your heart?’

“It’s been a privilege to witness the Spirit at work in this opportune moment for young men to respond more clearly and maturely.”

Despite the difficulties in our Catholic Church today, the faith is alive in the hearts of our young people and in young men studying for the priesthood, which should renew all of our hearts.

I am grateful for this early Christmas gift I received in the witness of Madison, Dillon and Corbin, our seminarians, Max and Robert, and the hopeful and challenging words of Father Hoesing.

PMD 2019: Video resources