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Lake George minister's history of sexual abuse elsewhere follows him

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Three decades ago, a district judge suggested Darwin Schauer might be too self-righteous to appreciate the seriousness of his fall from grace.

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Schauer, then principal of a Lutheran elementary school in southern Minnesota, was entering a guilty plea in Nicollet County to having a lengthy sexual relationship with a teenager that started when the victim was in second grade.

Schauer was angry, according to 1983 court transcripts, incensed that authorities had come into his home and hauled him off to jail in front of his family. He thought he'd been "stereotyped" as a sexual pervert. He verbally disagreed with the judge during his arraignment as to the charges he was facing.

Today he is jailed in Hubbard County on 15 charges of criminal sexual conduct with another minor who came forward earlier this month. Bond has been set at $1 million unconditional and $750,000 on the conditions he surrenders his passport, remains law-abiding and stays away from children.

The pious pastor who colleagues said knew scripture like the back of his hand, was dressed in faded jail orange, listening to another judge read the litany of his charges aloud.

It was excruciating to hear.

An omnibus hearing is set for Schauer April 9 in Park Rapids. He left parishes in Lake George and Cass Lake badly shaken in the wake of the charges. The same troubling pattern had repeated itself in another small Minnesota town - and few of them knew anything about his criminal history.

Now as parts of Darwin Schauer's past begin leaking out, parishioners are left wondering what God wrought.

Are the most holy of rituals, the marriages, baptisms and blessings bestowed on them by a sinner, now tarnished?

Early life of hard work, charges

Darwin Frederick Schauer was born in 1941 in the tiny town of Green Isle, in the southern part of Minnesota. He had two brothers, two sisters and hard-working parents. He helped out on the family farm, graduated from high school in Arlington and eventually entered into a farming partnership with his father that lasted about two years. Then he enlisted in the Army, where he specialized in chemical weaponry and prevention.

He returned to the farm following his service and attended Concordia College, earning a bachelor's degree and working summers on the farm.

He married and moved to Baldwin, Ill., than back to Arlington.

By 1978 he was the principal and teacher at a Lutheran school in Courtland, another small town. He was the father of four.

Around that time, according to his testimony, Schauer began sexual activity with a child 10 years old, a student in his school.

In 1983 the child left a letter at home, which was found by the mother.

The letter confessed to a three- or four-year relationship that by then had included sexual penetration. The mother promptly reported the abuse to authorities. Darwin Schauer was arrested in his home following a brief interview.

Schauer was arraigned on First Degree Sexual Abuse on March 18, 1983, in Nicollet County District Court. By this time the victim was 13.

The charge jolted the small town of Courtland. Schauer was forced to resign or be fired.

Because his family lived in a school-owned home across the street, they were evicted at the end of the school year. Schauer's wife applied for welfare and food stamps.

Schauer's case worked its way through the legal system, culminating in a guilty plea to the charge April 27, 1983. But the defendant voiced his disapproval of the way his case was handled at each opportunity the judge gave him to speak up.

"I realize that as it's set-up, maybe before you can help an offender, maybe you need to totally destroy him first...before he can be helped," Schauer told Judge Noah S. Rosenbloom.

"I'm talking about professionally and financially and socially and so on," Schauer continued. "I was taken away, you might say, as a, I suppose, a murderer would be."

"In the nature of things, the law is a rather blunt instrument, and we're in an area in which the community, many members of it, particularly influential members of it, influential as regards the formation of our laws, have very strong and definite emotional reactions to the kinds of problems that are involved in a case of this kind," Rosenbloom said at Schauer's plea hearing April 27, 1983.

A judicial tongue-lashing

By Aug. 1, at sentencing, Rosenbloom had taken a harsher tone. In that interim Schauer had been sent to a sex offenders treatment program at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, only to receive an early release because the hospital needed his bed.

"I find a great deal of hypocrisy implicit in the nature of your offense," the judge said. "Somehow I get the feeling from you that the undeniable sacrifice you have made in order to pursue your parochial school educational career - which incorporates some elements of ministry, I am aware of that - plus your strong faith, that all of these things somehow make it different or somehow casts what you did in a different light...

"You would not be the first person with high-minded ideals and good social commitment to be blinded thereby to the fact, like everybody else, you are human and as humans we are all capable of reprehensible conduct at times and under certain circumstances," Rosenbloom continued.

"The delusion is that somehow because of our high-mindedness we haven't done the things that we have in fact done, and I get the feeling, and I have from the beginning, that on your part you still haven't come to grips with what you really did."

The judge mentioned Schauer's clear criminal record, adding, "but there is also this strong strain of hypocrisy. Maybe it's because, given the strict requirements of your faith and your commitment, you can't bring yourself to confront some of your needs...

"I am concerned, incident to all of this, that you seem to have a tendency to manipulate your friends and family to meet your self-perceived needs, without apparent understanding at times of what the impact of those needs were on other people."

With that, the judge sentenced Schauer to 43 months incarceration, staying execution of the time on the condition that Schauer undergo in-patient and outpatient treatment at the St. Peter hospital. The program, then called the Intensive Sexual Therapy Program for Sexual Aggressives, was long before Minnesota had an official sex offender treatment program and registry.

The court file is sketchy about how long he underwent treatment. He entered the facility, which then had a waiting list, Oct. 13, 1983, three months after his sentencing. The court file contained indications he'd been freed in the summer of 1983 on the $5,000 bond his brother posted earlier, to allow him to return to work on the family farm,

By the time of his review hearing July 14, 1986, he was already out in the community and found to have a satisfactory adjustment. St. Peter's staff would not give the dates of Schauer's actual tenure there because of medical privacy laws, said Department of Human Services media relations.

But in that two-and-a-half-year interim, his wife had divorced him in 1985 after spending two years on welfare and leaving town because of the shame.

"She had a pretty rough couple of years," said one woman familiar with the case, who asked that her name not be used.

Rosenbloom acknowledged "you've made good progress... I think, from everything I can see, this is a success story, and I hope it continues to be."

The resurrection of Darwin Schauer had begun.

Part 2 of this story, from principal to pastor, will appear in Wednesday's Enterprise.

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Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers Hubbard County, courts and breaking news.

(218) 732-3364
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