St. Paul church stands by pastor who admitted to sex with teenage boy

A St. Paul church is standing by their pastor even though he has been recently investigated by the White Bear Lake Police Department for sexually abusing teenage boys more than three decades ago, even admitting to having a sexual relationship with one of the boys.

After hearing about the troubles in the Catholic church, Eric Forseth googled Rev. Don Horner's name out of curiosity and found something unexpected. Horner was in a position of trust, as the lead pastor at Eastside Lutheran Church in St. Paul. Forseth wondered how that could happen, given what he said happened to him 36 years ago when he was just 15 years old. The man said Horner fondled him twice, once on a hayride and another time at a church sleepover at First Lutheran in White Bear Lake where Horner was a youth pastor and music director.

TIMELINE: Rev. Don Horner

Forseth called Bishop -- now former Bishop -- Peter Rogness of the St. Paul synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the ELCA. The Bishop said Forseth should file a police report. After doing so, White Bear Lake police conducted an investigation, which turned up three victims.

Admits to abusing 1 teen boy

When the police department contacted Horner, he made a personal visit to the station. While he didn't remember Forseth, he admitted to abusing another 15-year-old boy who was a member of the youth group at First Lutheran in White Bear Lake.

Horner molested him in the sauna, the church office, at church camp and weekly throughout high school. A sexual relationship developed that continued through college and for a few years later. Horner was married the entire time to his wife and had three children. That victim no longer lives in Minnesota, but told Fox 9 over the phone he doesn't believe in all these years anyone has ever called police. He said Horner would always shower special attention on one particular boy, segregating them from the others. The man believes there are at least three other victims, but doesn't believe they want to come forward.

In 1992, the man told the ELCA about the long-term abuse. In a press release back then, the ELCA said Horner had "acknowledged an inappropriate relationship going back 15 years." It noted Horner had occasionally "spoken of himself as a victim of sexual abuse as a child." Horner was de-rostered from the ELCA but he didn't leave the clergy. He switched denominations, becoming an ordained minister with the United Church of Christ, the UCC. The UCC also de-rostered Horner because they say he lied about his background. Horner then joined the International Ministerial Fellowship, before resigning a few months ago.

Despite the recent police investigation and what Horner told investigators, the Ramsey County Attorney couldn't prosecute the case, because back in the 70's and 80's the statute of limitations was just three years.

Accusations against him

Horner's resume also includes work as real estate agent, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves and a social worker, conducting chemical assessments at the Ramsey County Jail. That is where Horner met a man whom Fox 9 is not identifying. He said Horner made advances on him just 10 years ago when he was in his early 20s and doing time for drunk driving. Horner learned he played the piano, and offered him a job playing the organ at Eastside Church. He moved in next door to the church and according to the man, Horner would frequently visit and come into his room or bathroom at night. The Pastor offered massages to him and asked the man to unbutton his pants during one of them.

A St. Paul cop for 30 years before becoming associate pastor of Eastside Lutheran, Cheryl Indehar, said the man told his story to her. She then went to Bishop Rogness and then gave an ultimatum to the Eastside Church Council.

"At that meeting I made it clear, if they did vote to keep Don, I wouldn't stay," Indehar said. "They voted to keep Don. And I left."

ELCA drops Eastside

At that time, Horner was no longer a minister with the ELCA, but Eastside was still an ELCA affiliated church. The current Bishop, Patricia Lull, said Bishop Rogness met with the Eastside Church Council in 1996 but was lead to believe Horner was a music director, a lay position the ELCA had no control over. In 2008, Rogness met again with the council about new allegations. In 2009, Rogness asked to speak to the congregation about Horner but was denied. In 2013 and 2014, Rogness urged the council to dismiss Horner. Last June, the ELCA finally removed the church from its list of congregations.

Despite multiple attempts, Horner and members of the Church Council would not comment. After being refused, a Fox 9 crew went to a Sunday service to ask members of the congregation if they knew about Horner's past. Several said they were unaware of their pastor's history.

ELCA statement: [PDF]

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