- Associated Press - Saturday, June 18, 2016

HIBBING, Minn. (AP) - A Hibbing priest accused of molesting four girls has taken the witness stand to deny the allegations.

Brian Lederer, 30, testified at his trial Friday, the Hibbing Daily Tribune (https://bit.ly/2640k5e ) reported. Under questioning by his attorney and later by the prosecutor, Lederer said he never sexually or intentionally touched any of his accusers.

“No, I wouldn’t do that,” Lederer replied to a series of questions by defense attorney Peter Wold about whether the allegations are truthful.

When asked about snapping girls’ bras, Lederer said he did not recall any specific incidents, “but I would put my hand on student’s shoulders and say, ‘hey, how are you?’”

Lederer also denied purposely touching an accuser’s buttocks while pushing her on a swing.

“I may have touched her butt, but I had no sexual intent,” he said. “I was just trying to help.”

Lederer is charged with four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and two counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, all felonies. He was arrested and charged in May 2015. The four girls ranged in age from 10 to 13 at the time of the alleged incidents.

Three of the girls, classmates at Assumption Catholic School, testified in court Wednesday. They allege that Lederer touched them inappropriately on more than one occasion on school grounds. Prosecutors said the incidents occurred during the 2014-2015 school year.

Prosecutors also say another incident took place in a residence and others happened on a school bus.

While working with the school, Lederer said it was common for him to hang out with students.

“I liked to sit in at lunch for two reasons,” he said. “I didn’t have to bring a lunch, and I got to chat with the kids. It was always different kids.”

Lederer also said that students would often run up to him after school to hug him.

“Kids would run up and say, ‘see you later, Father Brian.’ Then I’d lean down and they’d hug me,” he said. “They’d also lean up against me, and I’d put my hand on their shoulder.”

Lederer said those actions did raise concerns about boundaries from teachers. He said he spoke with the principal and vowed to better handle the encounters.

“I told him I’d work on it, maybe high fives or something,” he said. “It’s hard being a new priest and a kindergartner comes up to hug you. I’m not going to say ‘no’ and shove them away. I don’t want kids to think I’m some strict priest. I wouldn’t want them to be afraid to come talk to me. I wanted to be that regular guy.”

Lederer is due back in court Monday. Both the prosecution and defense will give their final arguments, followed by jury deliberations.


Information from: The Daily Tribune, https://www.hibbingmn.com/placed/

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