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Finn flayed.

Last week, Kansas City Detective Maggie McGuire was honored for her work on the troubling case of Shawn Ratigan, a now-laicized priest serving a fifty-year sentence for possessing and creating child pornography. Recall that in 2012 Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph was found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse--after diocesan personnel informed him that they had found pornographic photographs of minors on Ratigan's laptop and the bishop failed to notify police. Obviously Deputy U.S. Attorney Gene Porter hasn't forgotten the details of that case, because when he presented the Crystal Kipper & Ali Kemp Memorial Award to McGuire, he delivered a stinging rebuke to Finn and his diocese:

When it becomes clear at the outset of the investigation that the entire hierarchy of a centuries-old religious denomination does not seem willing to recognize that the children depicted in the images are, in fact, victims of child exploitation, nor seem very willing to help establish the identity of the children depicted, and instead are spending millions of dollars on legal counsel in an ill-advised effort to avoid having the priest and bishop accept legal responsibility for their crimes, then you know, as an investigator, that your work is cut out for you.

He continued:

But for [McGuire's] work, multiple victims might not have been identified, a predatory priest might not have been removed and sentenced to the functional equivalent of life in prison, and Robert Finn never would have become the first cleric of his rank in the United States to sustain…a criminal conviction for failure to report suspected child abuse.

A judge sentenced Bishop Finn to two years of probation. He has not been censured by church authorities.

(H/T NCR)

Pope Francis apologizes for sexual-abuse scandal.

 

Today, in an address to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE)--an NGO that works to protect the rights and dignity of children--Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the "damage [abusive] priests have done for sexually abusing children." Noting that the total number of abusive priests is high, "obviously not compared to the number of all the priests," Francis reassured the audience that "the church is aware of this damage; it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the church." He promised that "we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed--on the contrary, we have to be even stronger."

Is this earth-shaking? Not really. But given that the last time he spoke on the subject it didn't exactly go over too well, this is a marked improvement. And--significantly--these remarks were not part of the prepared text. Francis could have read through the speech as written and avoided the uncomfortable subject altogether, bringing headlines like, "Pope Speaks to Child-Protection Group, Ignores Sexual Abuse." But he didn't. And what he said carries some force.

Francis pledged not to "take one step backward." He referred to "sanctions that must be imposed." Of course, the question remains: sanctions for whom? For abusive priests? We're aware of those sanctions. What about the bishops who enabled abusers? Francis has made it clear that he's not afraid to investigate an accused cardinal. But is he willing to penalize bishops who have put kids at risk--even after the hard lessons of 2002? That's the great unfinished business of the sexual-abuse scandal.

 

Suspended belief.

Today the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced that it has suspended a high-school teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with one of her students this year. Which is what a diocese does when it learns that one of its employees may have abused a minor. But what does a diocese do when it also learns that the staff member who first received the allegation waited weeks to report it? Turns out this one suspends that employee too--and names her (and the accused) in a public statement and a letter to parents.

A number of weeks ago, Annette Goodman, the school’s librarian, learned about the allegation. Maryland law and the policies of the Archdiocese and Archbishop Curley High School require that allegations of child abuse be reported to civil authorities and to the head of the school as soon as possible. Ms. Goodman reported the information to the school’s administration on April 1.

There's transparency and then there's transparency.

Maryland law requires mandatory reporters--which includes educators--to orally notify civil authorities of suspected abuse "immediately" (they have forty-eight hours to file a written report).

You may recall a somewhat similar case involving a diocesan staff member who came to suspect one of his priests was in possession of child pornography. He was eventually found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse. But he wasn't suspended, and he remains in the position he held when he broke the law: bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

We'll know whether this amounts to a real shift in church policy when the people who get suspended for failing to report include the men responsible for creating this scandal.

(H/T Michael Paulson.)

On sex abuse, asking the right questions

The announcement over the weekend of the new Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors made me think that at least I was asking the right questions at the panel discussion with Cardinal O'Malley last Wednesday. Leadership roles for women? They make up half the membership of this commission (so far), a good start. Will O'Malley be advising Francis on appointments to the commission, or sex-abuse-related policies and priorities? Obviously (as he must have already known).

As for accountability: it's something the commission may (and should) decide to take up. I think Mark Silk has it right. After quoting the Vatican's official description of the commission's duties, he writes:

I would suggest to Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the big dog on the commission, that the key item on this list is “civil and canonical duties and responsibilities.” In the U.S.and many other places around the world, there’s  been plenty of attention to education and the discipline of abusers, to say nothing of symbolic acts of ecclesiastical apology. What’s needed are binding and enforceable legal procedures.

All the best practices in the world aren't going to be much help if there's no visible, consistent, appropriate policy for dealing with bishops and others who ignore them. Silk is encouraged by the presence on the commission of Baroness Sheila Hollins, who, he says, "is notable for calling on the Vatican to punish church officials (read: bishops) who fail to implement or enforce church rules on pedophile priests." And honestly, any lay person -- even a titled one -- should be a big help in reminding the pope and cardinals that attending to the view from outside the Vatican is what matters most if the church is ever going to recover from this blow to its credibility.

Pope names members of Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Pope Francis has named the first eight members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he announced last December. Half are women. Five are laypeople. Two are Jesuits (one of them was formed in Argentina by the pope himself). One is a cardinal--Sean O'Malley--and he's the only American. Here they are:

Dr. Catherine Bonnet (France)
Mrs. Marie Collins (Ireland)
Prof. the Baroness Sheila Hollins (UK)
Card. Sean Patrick O’Malley  (U.S.A.)
Prof. Claudio Papale (Italy)
Her Excellency Hanna Suchocka (Poland)
Rev. Humberto Miguel Yañez, SJ (Argentina)
Rev. Hans Zollner, SJ (Germany)

They will be tasked with writing the "statutes" of the commission, and more members will be added at a later date. In a statement, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, SJ, explained that the commission "will take a multi-pronged approach to promoting youth protection, including: education regarding the exploitation of children; discipline of offenders; civil and canonical duties and responsibilities; and the development of best practices as they have emerged in society at large."

Brief bios (except Bonnet's) from the Holy See Press Office after the jump.

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Archbishop Nienstedt to return to ministry.

Ramsey County prosecutors will not press charges against Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who was accused of inappropriately touching a minor during a 2009 confirmation group photo. In a memo explaining the decision not to prosecute, assistant county attorney Richard Dusterhoft called allegation "unlikely." A boy who appeared in that photograph told his mother that Nienstedt had touched his rear end during the shoot. His mother mentioned it to a St. Paul-Minneapolis priest, who then reported it to the police. Officers interviewed Nienstedt twice, the boy twice, and everyone who appeared in the photo. None of them remembered seeing anyone being touched on the buttocks.

“This case was reviewed by an assistant county attorney with many years of experience prosecuting child sex-abuse cases,” Dusterhoft wrote. “It is that attorney’s experienced and considered opinion that based upon the evidence as presented by police this case could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and should not be charged.”

Nienstedt removed himself from ministry soon after the archdiocese received the allegation in December; he will resume public ministry immediately.

More from MPR. (More from me on the ongoing sexual-abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis here, here, here, and here.)

On sex abuse, Francis - alas - sings a familiar tune

If there's an area in which Pope Francis has been a disappointment, it's in responding to the sex-abuse crisis. In most ways he strikes me as a hierarch who is unusually aware of how the Church is perceived by the broader world, and he has done a lot indirectly to repair the damage to the church's credibility that resulted from the sex-abuse scandal. But he has said and done little about the scandal itself, despite his refreshing frankness on so many other issues. And now that he has spoken about the issue, in the interview just published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, his take is not exactly encouraging.

Here's the relevant excerpt, as reported in Vatican Insider's account:

Speaking about the horrific abuse of children by priests, Francis said “the cases of abuse are terrible because they leave very deep wounds”.  Benedict XVI “was very courageous and opened a road, and the Church has done a lot on this route, perhaps more than all others”, he stated. He noted that the statistics reveal the tremendous violence against children, but also that the vast majority of abuse takes place in the milieu of the family and those close to them.  The Church is the only public institution to have moved “with transparency and responsibility”, he said; no one else has done as much as it, “but the Church is the only one to be attacked”.

Oh brother.

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Early warning.

If you read enough about the Catholic Church's sexual-abuse scandal--and I do--you come across several truisms. The cover-up was worse than the abuse. Ideology was no predictor of episcopal misfeasance. Americans failed to grasp the gravity of sexual abuse until relatively recently. But that last one has never sat very well with me. I remember joking with grade-school and high-school classmates in the 1980s and '90s about priests who seemed a little too interested in engineering alone time with students. We didn't know any priests who had abused, but we were aware of the phenomenon of abusive clerics. We sensed the threat they posed--enough to develop an appropriately morbid coping mechanism. (Lots of Irish Catholics among us, naturally.)

It's not that I reject the notion that it took a long time for Americans to figure out what sexual abuse does to kids--and how difficult it is for some abusers to stop. Of course, in the bad old days nobody wanted to talk about sex at all--let alone its perversion. And it's true that even when bishops were convinced that a priest had abused a minor, they tended to view the abuse as a sin, not a crime. Remove the temptation (reassign the priest), remove the occasion for sin. And yes, later, when psychologists got involved, many told bishops that chronic abusers could be treated and returned to ministry. We know better now. But didn't anyone know better then?

At least one person did. Her name is Sr. Peg Ivers. The Chicago Tribune caught up with her this week.

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Telling Vatican 'Secrets.'

Did you catch this week's episode of Frontline, "Secrets of the Vatican" (you can watch online right here)? Probably not the best title, given that the subjects it covers have been pretty well reported: Benedict's resignation, curial dysfunction, sexual abuse, Maciel's crimes, a gay clerical subculture in Rome, the Vatileaks scandal, corruption at the Vatican Bank. If you've been keeping up with those stories, you probably won't learn a lot viewing this film.

The first time I watched "Secrets of the Vatican," I found it slightly annoying.

The music: Is there some law requiring documentarians who cover the Catholic Church to score their work with spooky chant or cheese-ball action-movie music? It's distracting, especially when played behind the film's powerful interviews with victims of sexual abuse--including Maciel's son Raul Gonzales. (N.B.: When the film turns to Pope Francis's election and his focus on the poor, the music takes an appropriately humbler turn, replacing pipe organs with pan flutes. Cue Carson Zamfir joke.)

The reenactments: In the segment on the Vatican Bank scandals, the narrator describes the Italian authorites' surveillance operation, just as the camera pans across a roomful of official-looking men intently staring at computers, holding on a young man wearing headphones, leaning in toward the screen as though the thing was about to whisper the location of Jimmy Hoffa's body.

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Dredging Wobegon.

In early December a judge ordered the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to release its list of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse. Plaintiffs' attorneys received the names in a 2009 lawsuit, but the court sealed the list. The archdiocese long fought its release, but reversed course after Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reported that for years bishops had failed to inform police about a priest who had admitted to molesting boys. Archbishop John Nienstedt made the list public on December 5. It included the names of thirty-three men. But last week MPR reported that the actual number of accused priests was seventy. "Some of the...men remain in ministry," according to MPR. "Others are long dead." They worked in nearly every parish in the archdiocese.

(The same judge also ordered the archdiocese to release the names of all priests accused of abuse--not just those "credibly accused"--by February 18. The archdiocese appealed the order on that date, and has until February 26 to provide answers to a judge's questions.)

The archdiocese disputes MPR's account. In a statement released the day after MPR published its report online, the archdiocese claimed that "the twenty-eight clergy members identified by MPR have not been publicly disclosed by the archdiocese because they do not, to date, constitute substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor." The statement continued: "At least sixteen of the twenty-eight clergy members identified by MPR were the subject of false, meritless or unsubstantiated accusations against them."

What about the other twelve? "Over ten" of them, the archdiocese claims, "are not from our archdiocese and the allegations against them concern alleged conduct that occurred outside of this archdiocese." Still, they worked in the Twin Cities. According to the statement, such priests "are subject to the authority of other orders and dioceses and...the archdiocese does not have sufficient information or even jurisdiction to determine whether those foreign claims are credible or have been substantiated."

The list of the thirty-three released by the archdiocese was originally compiled by then-Vicar General Fr. Kevin McDonough in response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' first sexual-abuse audit. So why did MPR find more than double that figure? The archdiocese, it turns out, had more than one list. "There were handwritten lists and e-mailed lists and memos about lists stored on computers and in filing cabinets at the chancery," according to MPR. Perhaps that's why in 2004 the archdiocese publicly acknowledged that it had received sixty-nine allegations over the previous fifty years, but two years later an internal memo obtained by MPR listed one hundred eighty victims. Obviously the record-keeping was a mess.

Apparently not all of it was accidental.

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Vatican responds to UN report on sexual abuse.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child published a report strongly criticizing the Vatican for its handling of the sexual-abuse crisis. It hasn't gone over very well. John Allen argued that it might actually hurt the reform movement within the Catholic Church. Austen Ivereigh called the committee a "kangaroo court." (While I don't agree with everything Ivereigh has to say about the report--for example, he claims the Holy See has been a "catalyst" on abuse reform "at least since 2001"--he's catalogued its many mistakes.) Michael Sean Winters declared, "To hell with the UN." Mark Silk criticized the report for treating the Holy See as it would any other state, calling it "worse than idiotic. It's counterproductive."

Apart from that significant error, the report foolishly wades into doctrinal waters, suggesting the Vatican revise its teachings on abortion and contraception. The committee urges the Holy See to provide "family planning, reproductive health, as well as adequate counselling and social support, to prevent unplanned pregnancies." At one point the UN committee asks Rome to remove from Catholic-school textbooks "all gender stereotyping which may limit the development of the talents and abilities of boys and girls and undermine their educational and life opportunities." At another it complains that the Code of Canon Law refers to children born out of wedlock as "illegitimate." The report says that in canon law instances of sexual abuse ought to be "considered as crimes and not as 'delicts,'" seemingly ignorant of the fact that "delict" means crime. (The committee's work is so sloppy that it doesn't even seem to know where to cut off a quote: That part of the report reads, "Child sexual abuse, when addressed, has been dealt with as 'grave delicts against the moral' through confidential proceedings...")

Even when the committee bumps up against a good idea, it seems uninterested in context. For example, it asks Rome to establish "clear rules, mechanisms and procedures for the mandatory reporting of all suspected cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation to law enforcement authorities," but fails to note that the world's law-enforcement authorities are not all made in the image and likeness of North America's and Europe's. That's why some diocese--in Africa, for example--haven't implemented mandatory-reporting rules. Shouldn't a UN committee show some awareness of that?

Some of their confusions could have been cleared up with a few clicks of a mouse, or by speaking to someone who knows something about the inner workings of the church. Apparently that didn't occur to the them.

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The prosecution rests.

Last Wednesday, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced that he would not charge Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis officials with failing to report suspected child abuse in the case of Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer. (He's still investigating several others.) In November 2012, Wehmeyer pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal sexual conduct and seventeen counts of possession of child pornography. He's serving a five-year prison term. Civil authorities began investigating after Minnesota Public Radio reported that the archdiocese had known about Wehmeyer's sexual misbehavior for years, failed to inform his parish staff, and left him in ministry--with disastrous results. (In another case, Washington County prosecutors announced that they would not charge a priest with possession of child pornography--more on that later in the week.)

Minnesota law requires a priest to notify the police when he suspects child abuse--within twenty-four hours, unless he acquires the information during confession or spiritual counseling. The archdiocese claims it received an allegation against Wehmeyer on June 19, 2012, and reported it to police the following day. "It is our belief," Choi explained at last week's press conference, "that a criminal jury would conclude that members of the archdiocese did not fail to comply with the mandatory reporting law in this case." At the same event, St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith claimed officers lacked probable cause for a subpoena or a warrant to search archdiocesan files. Hours later, MPR published a document signed by Archbishop John Nienstedt indicating that the archdiocese had received the allegation on June 18--two days before the archdiocese reported it to the police.

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Cardinal George revises history.

On Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Chicago released six thousand pages of documents related to the cases of thirty priests credibly accused of sexual abuse. The files, made public as part of a settlement with victims' attorneys, offer a predictably depressing view of archdiocesan failures over the past several decades. You know the dirge: priests quietly shuttled from parish to parish, civil authorities kept in the dark about some cases (and colluding with church officials to keep others from public scrutiny), laypeople and clergy failing to report allegations, bishops refusing to suspend dangerous priests.

For releasing these documents and for making public the names of known abuser-priests, Cardinal Francis George--archbishop of Chicago since 1997--takes some credit. "Publishing for all to read the actual records of these crimes," he wrote in a letter warning Chicagoans about the document dump, "raises transparency to a new level." Perhaps. But he didn't volunteer these files. They wouldn't have come out if it hadn't been for victims who pressed for their release as part of a legal settlement. Still, it's difficult to take seriously Cardinal George's brief for transparency when he seems so intent on obfuscating his own role in the scandal.

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Top stories (and top posts) of 2013

In a year that saw a papal resignation (and consequent conclave) and the public embrace of the new pope, it's not surprising that among our most-read articles and blog posts of 2013 are items on these stories, such as our exclusive interview with Francis. But readers also responded to stories on same-sex marriage, public-education reform, and the relationship among work, material necessities, and "the good life." Below are the top ten stories from Commonweal and blog posts from dotCommonweal this year. As this is simply a data-generated tally, are there other stories and posts from 2013 not represented here that are nonetheless worth a mention? Any particular favorites - or further thoughts? 

Top stories

“The Things We Share,” Joseph Bottum

“Less Please: Capitalism & the Good Life,” Gary Gutting

“A Chat with Pope Francis: The Commonweal Interview,” The Editors

“Beyond the Stalemate: Forty Years after Roe,” Peter Steinfels

“Reform of the Reform,” Jackson Lears

“Regime Change: Benedict & His Successor,” William L. Portier

“The Big Chill: ‘Humanae Vitae’ Dissenters Need to Find a Voice,” Cathleen Kaveny

“A New Balance: What the Pope’s Interview Reveals,” The Editors

“Historical Amnesia: When Catholic Leaders Misread the Past,” Nicholas Clifford

“The Big Dig: Reconfiguring the Church in Boston,” Luke Hill
 

Top blog posts

“No, the Pentagon won't court-martial service members for sharing their faith,” Grant Gallicho

“NYT’s ironic fact-check error,” Michael Peppard

“Archdiocese of Wobegon,” Grant Gallicho

“Washing feet,” Rita Ferrone

“Apostolic Nuncio to USCCB: Be pastoral, not ideological,” Grant Gallicho

“Francis: women are the first communicators of the Resurrection,” Grant Gallicho

“Interregnum report, March 6,” Dominic Preziosi

“The conclave bird: a distinctively Roman omen,” Michael Peppard

“When ‘allegedly prolife’ groups attack,” Grant Gallicho

“Pontifex legibus solutus?” Joseph A. Komonchak

Nienstedt's apologia tour.

Two days before the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced that it had received an allegation of sexual misconduct against Archbishop John Nienstedt, he visited a parish to apologize for the way he responded to accusations of sexual abuse by priests.

When I arrived here seven years ago, one of the first things I was told was that this whole issue of clerical sex abuse had been taken care of and I didn’t have to worry about it. Unfortunately I believed that. And so my biggest apology today...is to say I overlooked this. I should have investigated it a lot more than I did. [When the story broke] at the end of September, I was as surprised as anyone else.

Really? Because in 2009 Nienstedt's former top canon lawer, Jennifer Haselberger, warned him not to promote a priest with a history of sexual misconduct. Nienstedt made him a pastor (the priest was already administrator of the parish, thanks to the previous archbishop's bad judgment). The priest went on to abuse children in the parish. Haselberger provided Nienstedt with a golden opportunity to "investigate it more." Why wasn't he more alarmed? Where was his sense of urgency? Calmed by the assurance that in the Twin Cities "this whole issue of clerical sex abuse had been taken care of"?

And just last year Haselberger informed Nienstedt about another time bomb--this one was sitting in the chancery basement: a report indicating that "borderline illegal" pornographic images had been found on a priest's computer. Nienstedt did not report it to the police (in Minnesota, priests are mandated reporters). Haselberger did, just before she resigned.

Nienstedt was so troubled by the case that he considered contacting Rome for advice. In a detailed unsent letter to the Vatican, he acknowledged that this priest had possessed "borderline illegal" photographs of young people. He explained that he and the archdiocese could be subject to criminal prosecution for possessing such images (some were kept in the priest's long-buried personnel file). Nienstedt even expressed his "hesitation to assign [the priest] to any form of parochial ministry, given my doubts regarding his fitness for ministry and the potential harm and scandal that could ensue." That letter is dated May 29, 2012. But the archbishop wants Twin Cities Catholics to believe he was surprised when all this made headlines last September? Does he think they don't read the news?

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Archbishop Nienstedt steps aside after sexual-misconduct allegation.

Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis has stepped aside after it was alleged that he inappropriately touched a minor on the rear end during a group-photo shoot in 2009. In a letter to Twin Cities Catholics, the archbishop denies the allegation. "I do not know the individual involved," he wrote. "He has not been made known to me. I presume he is sincere in believing what he claims, but I must say that this allegation is absolutely and entirely false." After consulting with the papal nuncio, Nienstedt decided to voluntarily relinquished his public duties until an investigation is complete (Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché will take over).

"Upon learning of the allegation last week, the archdiocese instructed the mandated reporter to make the matter known to the police," according to a diocesan statement. The archdiocese promises to cooperate with civil authorities. Nienstedt's decision to withdraw from public ministry, the statement claims, demonstrates "the archdiocese’s commitment to disclosure. These steps further confirm that all within the archdiocese will be subject to the internal policies we have established."

For months the archdiocese has been buffeted by a seres of damning revelations about the way Nienstedt and his predecessors have handled abuse allegations. News of this allegation comes just as Nienstedt has started working to restore his people's trust (more on that later). But even if the allegation seems difficult to believe--no one else noticed a bishop touching a kid's buttocks during a post-confirmation group photo?--it won't help his cause.

Pope Francis to create commission on protection of minors.

Just as some Catholics were wondering--with good reason--whether Pope Francis was tip-toeing around the sexual-abuse crisis, the Vatican has anounced that he will establish a commission on the protection of minors. The idea, which came from his Council of Cardinals, was explained today by one of its members, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston.

The Commission will study present programmes in place for the protection of children; formulate suggestions for new initiatives on the part of the Curia, in collaboration with bishops, Episcopal conferences, religious superiors and conferences of religious superiors.

What's more, the commission will name the people who will be responsible for implementing these new initiatives. The scope of the commission's work will be expansive. According to the Vatican, it will include coming up with guidelines for protecting kids, developing educational programs for children and adults who work with them, putting in place formation strategies for seminarians and priests alike, establishing codes of professional conduct, finding better ways to determine a man's suitability for the priesthood, conducting more thorough background checks, "reporting of crimes, compliance with civil law, communications regarding clergy declared guilty, pastoral care for victims and their families, spiritual assistance, mental health services, collaboration with experts."

In other words, there is no part of the sexual-abuse crisis that this commission won't examine. In his apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis promised to decentralize papal authority. This commission seems designed to re-centralize authority on this matter to Rome. Given the way local bishops conferences have been handling the scandal, in this case centralized authority may be just what the doctor ordered.

The Nienstedt shuffle.

Yesterday, after shying away from the press for weeks, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis responded to the disturbing revelations about the way his diocese has been handling priests accused of sexual misconduct. He apologized to victims and their families. He promised to do better. And he pledged "before God and in memory of my beloved parents"--whose deaths he recounts at the top of his weekly column--"to do all in my power to restore trust here in this local church."

A tall order--made taller still by Nienstedt's reluctance to come clean about the facts of the cases in question. (Last month, Nienstedt's former top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, publicly revealed that the current and past archbishops of St. Paul-Minneapolis promoted a priest with a history of sexual misconduct--who later went on to abuse children--and failed to notify civil authorities when they learned that another priest had possessed "borderline illegal" images of what appeared to be minors.) In an e-mail interview with Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)--his first since they started reporting on this fiasco weeks ago--Nienstedt answers relatively straightforward questions with something shy of the whole truth.

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Archdiocese of Wobegon

 

Last week, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced a new task force that will examine issues related to archdiocesan sexual-abuse policies. Nienstedt has been under scrutinty since late September, when Jennifer Haselberger, his former chancellor for canonical affairs, went to the police and the press with damning accounts of the ways her superiors--and their predecessors--handled the cases of priests accused of sexual misconduct. She resigned in April after deciding that, given her ethical commitments, "it had become impossible for me to stay in that position."

The task force will be composed of at least six members--all laypeople, none employed by the archdiocese--and their findings will be made public. The archdiocese seems to believe that this group will find and fill the gaps in its policies that permitted these lapses to occur. Others agree. “These are very significant charges,’’ Don Briel, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "This was larger than the process and procedures [to halt sexual misconduct] were able to address.’’ But a review of facts of these cases fails to support that claim. The problem in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is not with its sexual-abuse policies, but with the people entrusted to carry them out. 

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Blast from Archbishop Myers's past. (UPDATED)

The Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, has agreed to pay $1.35 million to settle a lawsuit claiming that Archbishop John J. Myers--who served there as bishop from 1990 to 2001--failed to remove a priest from ministry despite having evidence that he had abused a minor. (Myers, you'll recall, has come in for some criticism regarding his handling of accused priests in his current diocese, Newark.)

The plaintiff, Andrew Ward, now twenty-five, accused the late Rev. Thomas Maloney of molesting him in 1995 and '96, when Ward was eight. About a year earlier, a woman informed the diocese that Maloney had abused her sister when she was ten years old. Myers denies knowing anything about it. Indeed, if anything comes through in the 2010 deposition of Myers, just unsealed as part of the settlement, it's that the archbishop's memory is less than ideal.

For example, Myers doesn't remember much about the generous gifts Maloney gave him over the years (starting in the late 1980s, apparently). Does he recall receiving Maloney's own "precious" camera? No. What about gold coins? Sort of. The silver object so large "it could be tied around one's neck like the proverbial millstone," as Myers desrcibed it to Maloney in a thank-you note? Hard to say. 

Now, it's not unusual for priests to give gifts to their bishop following confirmations. Such offerings usually amount to $1 per child, rarely totaling more than $500. But many bishops set up trusts to receive such funds for later disbursemet to charity. Myers apparently used them to cover personal expenses--including his mother's health care, his vacations, and his trips to the track. (SEE UPDATE BELOW.)

So were Myers and Maloney friends? The archbishop has trouble with that question too: "I don't know if 'friends' would — I had many other priests that I was closer to. I can say that." How many of those other priests were invited to vacation with Myers, as Maloney was in 2000? How many used their homilies to relate personal stories of their friendship with the bishop, sometimes referring to him as "Johnny"? How many were nominated by Myers to be made monsignor, as Maloney was in 2000? (Settle in, this is going to be a long post.)

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