From principal to pastor: How a sex offender ministered
In part two of a series about former pastor Darwin Schauer, who is jailed in Hubbard County on 15 charges of criminal sexual conduct, the Enterprise outlines how he returned to serving at a church after previously being sentenced for sex crimes. The first part of the series appeared in the March 31 Enterprise.
BY Sarah Smith
Darwin Schauer reached out to the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod's South District. He told a sympathetic minister he wanted to continue to serve the church.
The reverend helped get him accepted at Concordia in Mequon, Wis., after advising him that becoming an ordained minister was not possible with his history. Why not the lay ministry program?
Concordia Mequon's registrar said Schauer was admitted in the winter of 1989 and by summer, was able to be certified as a lay minister. Because of his previous four-year degree, Schauer had completed the two-year program in less than six months.
"A lay minister program is a separate program," explained Rev. Don Fondow, current president of the Synod's North District. "If a person enters and already may have a degree, or if they have college credits, that is applied to how many courses they have to take because it's a set certification so when you're done you don't necessarily receive a degree but you work towards certification and that's what the situation was. He would have been certified, completed the program that would allow him to be certified as a lay minister. The (Concordia) faculty basically certified and then he's available for placement in a position."
Schauer's first placement was with Immanuel Lutheran Church of Cass Lake, then Trinity Lutheran Church of Lake George, where he was commissioned as a lay minister. Initially a Blackduck pastor mentored or supervised him, allegedly aware of Schauer's criminal history. The Trinity and Immanuel parishes merged in 2000.
His congregations had no idea a sexual predator was now rendering pastoral care to them.
"When I became district president, he was already in place and so what was said if anything at that time about anything, I don't know," Fondow said, noting he came to the district in 2003.
Fondow's predecessor, now deceased, came to the region at some point to mediate a disagreement Schauer had with another pastor. Schauer and the supervisor discussed Schauer's past at that time. The synodical official had come armed with a Star Tribune article dated in 1983, which apparently had been sent to the district president. The clipping detailed the Courtland charge and sentence.
Schauer had no problem discussing his past in a frank manner. But later some colleagues wondered if he had so compartmentalized his life that he truly believed he was discussing another person, not himself.
In that time he'd remarried once or perhaps twice and divorced. The only record located indicated a default divorce without children from Elgilyn Dongon Schauer in 2003, while the couple lived in Cass Lake. Acquaintances say he is now married to his fourth spouse. He has two biological sons who are estranged from him and live in the southern part of the state, from his first marriage.
His two parishes were still not informed of his past and he retired in 2008, replaced by Rev. Don Kirchner. Kirchner made an initial statement when the 2012 charges were filed, but has deferred all questions to the district and Rev. Fondow.
Suspicions began swirling through the parish of Trinity Lutheran Church of Lake George around late 2007, but it is unclear how much the congregation knew about the sexual predator in their midst.
One of Schauer's responsibilities at the church was to teach communion classes to teens.
Around 2007, there had been extensive church discussions among synodical leaders as to whether Shauer could or should be ordained, so it was apparent church officials knew of his past. The ordination never took place.
He retired voluntarily in 2008, Fondow said.
He declined to discuss what the church knew and when officials knew about Schauer's past.
"That I don't know," Fondow said. "I really couldn't comment on that. I would have been in office in 2003."
When asked how long he specifically had known of Schauer's past, Fondow replied, "That part I can't comment on."
But Fondow assured the two parishes regardless of the sins Schauer may have committed in the past, their marriages and baptisms are not subject to question.
"They're not invalid," Fondow said. "The thing here is, all I can say here is according to the record I've seen is that he was certified and placed according to the procedure and process to place a lay minister."
With the latest arrest, recriminations and second-guessing have begun.
Another teen came forward March 4 in Hubbard County to report identical incidents of abuse over a period beginning in 2009, as were reported in the 1983 incident.
Schauer is charged with 15 counts of criminal sexual abuse involving that teen. Like the 1983 charge, the sexual activity is alleged to have begun when the victim was about 10. An omnibus hearing is set for April 9.
A former Courtland resident is suspicious and wonders how many victims may come forward from the last three decades.
"You don't go from 1983 and then do nothing and then in 2009 decided you're interested in (a child) again," she said. "He's so slick. What if this all got pushed aside again? And then he continues to do things."
Fondow doesn't accept any blame.
"I simply say with the congregation, it's one of those things that if as things transpire as they should, I just don't want to see them have to pay for something this man did," he said.
Is the church liable, he was asked?
"Not that I would say," he added. "And the other thing I would say is right now, he'll be removed. That process is already in effect right now. He'll be removed as being a rostered church worker.
"As things have transpired over the years here just like the laws of the land, right now we have a zero tolerance policy for any kind of sexual impropriety," Fondow said.
Kirchner is trying to stay out of the case, even though he has visited Schauer in the Hubbard County Law Enforcement Center a couple times since the arrest.
"I have a congregation to heal," he said quietly.