dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

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. 

In the case of one priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, Haselberger revealed that for nearly a decade the archdiocese had been aware of his troubling sexual proclivities but failed to warn his parishioners--and promoted him to pastor of a parish where he eventually abused children. Wehmeyer was sent for counseling in 2004, after it was discovered that he had propositioned two young men at a bookstore. A friend of the men, aged nineteen and twenty, took their statements and gave them to Fr. Kevin McDonough, then vicar general, who promised the priest would be dealt with accordingly. The man had a fifteen-year-old son who attended youth group with Wehmeyer. As Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reports, he "wasn’t satisfied with McDonough's answers, and he worried that he might hear about Wehmeyer in the news years later."

When Wehmeyer returned from treatment, he was assigned another priest to monitor him, and was told to attend Sexaholics Anonymous meetings. But that didn't keep him out of trouble.

One afternoon in 2006, a police officer saw Wehmeyer at a popular cruising area in a local park. When he approached Wehmeyer, the priest claimed he didn't know it was a pickup spot. "I'm a priest," he told the cop. "I know I shouldn't be here." Wehmeyer left, but returned within fifteen minutes. The police officer informed the archdiocese, and was told by McDonough (still vicar general) that they would "have a very serious follow-up and intercede." Later that year, then-Archbishop Harry Flynn appointed Wehmeyer administrator of Blessed Sacrament Parish. Flynn completed his work as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse in 2005.

Nienstedt was appointed coadjutor in April 2007, and succeeded Flynn as archbishop in May 2008.

Later that year, Nienstedt hired Haselberger. Soon after she arrived, Wehmeyer phoned her demanding to know why he was still listed as administrator of Blessed Sacrament instead of pastor. In view of his sexual habits, that's not surprising: it's harder for a bishop to remove a pastor. Aware that Nienstedt was considering Wehmeyer's request, she reviewed his personnel file, and found a curious omission. Even though it was archdiocesan policy to run background checks on its priests, there was none in his file. She kept looking, and came across documents detailing his sexual misconduct and his psychological evaluation. She gathered the relevant papers and forwarded them to Nienstedt, believing Wehmeyer would be removed.

He wasn't. And while he remained in charge of Blessed Sacrament, the archdiocese received more complaints--three in 2009. A priest claimed Wehmeyer had propositioned him. Another person saw him at a campground behaving strangely with boys (Haselberger told MPR that those kids would become his victims). He drunkenly attempted to pick up teenagers at a gas station, and was arrested for driving while intoxicated.

The following year, Archbishop Nienstedt appointed Wehmeyer pastor of Blessed Sacrament. When it was suggested by the sexual-abuse review board that the archdiocese inform parish employees of Wehmeyer's past, McDonough objected. At that point he was no longer vicar general, but had been appointed "delegate for safe environment"--that is, he was in charge of the archdiocesan response to clergy sexual abuse. In a 2011 memo, McDonough argued that Wehmeyer's misconduct would not resurface in the workplace. "Disclosure there would only serve to out his sexual identity questions (which, by the way, would be unlikely to surprise any observant person in the parish!)." Before offering that judgment, however, McDonough decided to consult Wehmeyer himself. Naturally, he didn't think it was necessary to share his past lapses in judgment with parish staff. By that time he had already molested two children of a Blessed Sacrament employee.

Wehmeyer's crimes were discovered in May 2012. In November of that year, he pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal sexual conduct and seventeen counts of possessing child pornography. He was sentenced to five years in prison. Police are investigating whether he had other victims.

Just a few months before Wehmeyer's victims acknowledged his crimes, Jennifer Haselberger got word that another priest was being considered for promotion, and decided to examine his file. (I won't use the priest's name because he has not been charged with a crime.) What she found shocked her: three discs containing thousands of pornographic images--including some that seemed to depict minors--and a 2004 report on the contents of the computer from which they were taken. The computer had belonged to the priest who was up for promotion. (She also found a mid-1990s report about the priest wrestling with boys while in seminary, and another indicating that in 2009 he'd had an eighteen-year-old parishioner living with him at the rectory.)

On the discs was a warning "saying something to the effect of 'don't insert these disks into a computer that's attached to the internet' and 'see previous report prior to viewing images,'" Haselberger told MPR. The note was in Fr. McDonough's handwriting.

In 2004, the priest's computer came into the possession of Joe Ternus (accounts of how he obtained the machine differ, either through a garage sale or after the priest left it behind after taking a new assignment). Ternus, a local parishioner, thought he'd give the computer to his kids. But before doing so, he had a look at its contents. After coming across many "hard-core" images, he took the computer to the archdiocese, and was told they'd follow up. They hired a private-investigation firm, which had a forensic-computer expert analyze the hard drive. His report referred to "thousands" of pornographic images, and described some of them as "borderline illegal," according to Haselberger, who saw images seeming to show a minor performing oral sex. She also saw that the forensic expert had turned up several disturbing search terms, including "naked boy pics," "young boys," and "helpless teen boys." The report indicated that "there is no credible evidence to support the claim that person(s) other than" the priest accessed the images. (Haselberger quotes the report at some length in her February 2012 memo to Nienstedt.)

When the archdiocese asked the priest to turn over his other computers, he smashed one of them with a hammer, Haselberger said, and refused to release the other one. Then-Archbishop Harry Flynn sent the priest for counseling. When he returned, Flynn put him back in ministry.

Haselberger made copies of the images and showed them to diocesan leaders--including Archbishop Nienstedt--last year. None called the police. Months later, when she brought the photos to then-Vicar General Fr. Peter Laird, he asked her to hand them over. She did. Then, as MPR reports, "I went back to my office. I closed the door and I called Ramsey County."

When the police called the chancery to obtain the evidence, they were told it would take time to gather the information. The archdiocese eventually provided police three discs that supposedly held the contents of the hard drive, but refused to give them the forensic study because it was a "product of their investigation," according to the police report. But the discs the police were given contained no images of minors. "Whether these discs given to me were the actual discs or copies of those discs after first asking for them, I do not know," the investigating officer wrote. And without the forensic study, the county lacked evidence to press charges against the priest. So they closed the case.

But while the police had given up investigating, the archdiocese was only beginning its year-long process of deciding how to deal with the priest. Haselberger warned Nienstedt in February and May of 2012 that possession of child pornography was a canonical and civil crime, and that reporting it was essential. Evidently she got through, because in May 2012, Nienstedt drafted a letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, seeking advice.

"I am writing to inform you of an instance of possession of pornographic images, possibly of minors under the age of fourteen," Nienstedt wrote. He seemed flummoxed by the fact that his predecessor, Archbishop Harry Flynn, did not report the case. (That would be the same Harry Flynn who was, at the time these images were discovered,  head of the USCCB's sexual-abuse committee.) "My staff has expressed concern that the fact that CD-ROMs containing the images remain in the cleric's personnel file could expose the archdiocese, as well as myself, to criminal prosecution." He quoted portions of the forensic report, and summarized some of the complaints the archdiocese had received about the priest. By that point Nienstedt had removed the priest from ministry.

But he never sent the letter, according to Haselberger.

Perhaps Fr. Kevin McDonough--former vicar general and former safe-environment czar--had persuaded him not to follow through. In January 2013, McDonough sent the archbishop two memos explaining that the images did not constitute child pornography. He assured Nienstedt that he had no memory of the 2004 report. Perhaps it was too shocking, he speculated. After viewing a few hundred of the twenty-three hundred photos, he did find some involving minors (he needed Haselberger's help to find those). But "those images are not in my judgment pornographic." Rather, they looked to him like "pop up" ads designed to entice one to view such smut. What's more, he explained, he'd read somewhere that 60 percent of child-pornography sites are run by law enforcement. Given the "absence of any law-enforcement involvement with him," the archbishop need not worry. He had no "reason further to pursue the question of child sexual abuse" with the priest.

To his credit, Nienstedt forwarded McDonough's memos to key staffers, including Haselberger, seeking their counsel "with regard to giving [the priest] a pastoral assignment."

Haselberger was livid. She told Nienstedt that McDonough was badly mistaken, and pointed out that when she showed both of them the images in May 2012, neither disputed that they were pornographic. She urged him to notify the police and turn over the evidence "for their determination." And she reminded him that McDonough had failed to follow the sexual-abuse review board's recommendation to inform Wehmeyer's parish staff of his history. That judgment, she wrote, "has been proven to be tragically wrong."

But Nienstedt did not heed her advice. Indeed, he was still considering whether to give this priest who he believed to have possessed "borderline illegal" photos a pastoral assignment. Why? And why did he promote Wehmeyer to pastor after being informed of his long history of totally unacceptable, indeed dangerous behavior? Nienstedt's service as archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been distinguished by an energetic, and expensive, campaign against gay marriage. He recently told a crowd of "influential," wealthy Catholics that sodomy and pornography were the work of Satan--that they threatened the stability of our civilization. No one could accuse him of failing to take those issues seriously. Except, perhaps, those who take stock of his failures to act in these two cases.

His indecision could prove costly. Despite McDonough's confidence that he was qualified to determine whether naked images of minors constituted pornography, the law does not grant him--or any mandated reporter--the authority to determine what is and is not child pornography. The relevant statute is not terribly confusing. Even if minors are not depicted having sex, "lewd exhibitions of the genitals" is considered pornographic. And the law requires clergy to report suspected child abuse--including child pornography.

The law is not difficult to find. I Googled "Minnesota child pornography statute" and it came up as the first result. McDonough offered his assesment of the images in January 2013. Did he not have internet access at that time? Didn't any of this ring a bell for him or for Nienstedt? Had they missed the news that in 2011 Bishop Robert Finn had been charged with failing to report child abuse because he didn't call the cops when he learned that one of his priests had potentially illegal images on his computer? (He was later found guilty, and remains Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.)

If Nienstedt has forgotten what happens when prosecutors start sniffing around chanceries in earnest, he may be about to receive a painful reminder. Because the police are going to re-open the case. Turns out the man who first handed over the priest's computer had made a copy of much of its contents (but not all). He's given it to the police. He himself didn't see any minors in the priest's library of porn, but he viewed just a small fraction of the collection. Will the police be able to pry the missing report from the archdiocese? Does it still exist, or did it end up with the now missing images Haselberger said she saw? Will Nienstedt's and Haselberger's citations of the report in the documents she released be sufficient to charge anyone with failing to report child abuse? We're going to find out.

But in the meantime, perhaps it would be a good idea to stop pretending that these failures had anything to do with policy, and admit that they were entirely the fault of a culture that prized self-protection and secrecy above disclosure and, yes, justice. Is it appalling when an archbishop acknowledges to ecclesiastical authorities that one of his priests is in possession of "borderline illegal" images of children but can't work up the will to share this information with the civil authorities? Yes. Just as it's troubling that a bishop who had long won the praise of inaugural members of the USCCB National Review Board apparently promoted a priest who had no business anywhere near children, and then seemingly failed to report a priest who may have downloaded child porn--just two years after he voted to approve the very rules the bishops adopted to address the scandal. But should you be surprised that bishops who fail so miserably have underlings who have trouble reading the reddest of flags?

Of course, it's not only clerics who help sustain this culture of denial. The maintenance man for Wehmeyer's parish told the police that for two years he noticed the same boys going to and from the priest's camper. “We told [the parish’s business administrator], and she should have done something about it.” Why didn't he?

No amount of "safe environment" training can fix this problem. It doesn't matter how independent a diocesan review board is on paper. Or how many laypeople have been tasked to overhaul a diocese's abuse policies. Or how sincerely a bishop promises to make room for a review board to do its work. We have seen it time and again. In Philadelphia, where the review board was seeing only the cases the archbishop decided to show them. In Kansas City-St. Joseph, where the review board wasn't informed of the child pornography on one of their priest's computers. In Newark, where a priest who admitted to groping a boy sexually was given a hospital assignment and a card proving his good standing. If a bishop decides to keep allegations to himself, he can. If he wants to sabotage strong sexual-abuse policies, he's free to do so. The only reason you're reading about any of this is because Jennifer Haselberger went public.

And the only person who can act decisively to change this culture of denial lives in Rome. Do you think he's listening to MPR?

Topics: 

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Ryan Dowhower:

Cheap shot with no baisi in fact.

Correction:

Ryan Dowhower:

Cheap shot with no basis in fact.

 

Jim J. --

What you say about Levada makes me trust him even less.  And to think that such a man was Prefect of the CDF!

I'm still not convinced that Pope Francis, admirable as he is in so many ways, will finally heal the scandal.  Now all the priests and bishops are his sons.  How will his merciful attitude allow him to respond to them?  He'll need to see that removing some people from office is thte genuinely merciful thing to do, for the children anyway.     

Helen, I agree that Denis Mc Donough should not be blamed, even indirectly,  for his older brother's alleged sins.

Denis has a strong reputation as a good parent and devout Catholic.

That said, it is really surprising how no one, perhaps other than me, had questioned why the Feds are not being reported as more active on a well publicized case of alleged child porn possession.

After all, it was the Feds who just got the 50 year prison sentence for the pedophile pornographer that Bishop Finn pleaded guilty to failing to report timely.

I even raised this by e-mail with the Minn. and other relevant journalists last week, but have seen no evidence any of them have yet even asked the Feds what's up. Puzzingly, no?

Time will tell.

"Canon law is very eloquent on what a bishop is supposed to do, but there is no list of Thou Shalt Nots," says Father Reginald Whitt (2002).   "These (sex abusers) are criminals, but they are our criminals and we can't lose them. Indeed, the bishops have a duty to try to save them," says the Rev. Reginald Whitt, professor of canon law at University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. (2002)

"......BISHOPS HAVE A DUTY TO TRY TO SAVE THEM (sex abuser priests)....."   Well, Fr. Whitt, where is it written (no, not in text or canon law.......it is written in one's heart and soul) that the bishops have a duty to try to save the CHILDREN ABUSED and INNOCENT CHILDREN from the risk of abuse?

Seems like little has changed since these issues were studied over a decade ago by during the Dallas Charter Charade of the USCCB.

Father Whitt has a degree in canon law and civil law.  Which perspective will take prominence and priority when he reviews the findings of the task force committee he established to review the debacle in the archdiocese?  It is humanly, ethically and morally IMPOSSIBLE to avoid/resolve the conflicts of interest from both perspectives (civil and canon law) when attempting to review and support the rights of priests vs the rights of child victims.

Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Kansas City move over…………….here come the Twin Cities and their unique brand of US Catholic Church leadership.

Michael Skiendzielewski

Captain        (retired)

Philadelphia Police Dept.

The problem is bigger than the people entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out the rules and procedures for handling allegations of secxual abuse.

I find practicing Catholic accept that a decent framework for investigating the situation by people who are not employed by the church will solve the problem.

I find ex-Catholics question the profound lack of moral and ethical resoing and practice on the part of the Catholic hierarchy. They assume the church is simply unable to teach morality to anyone, especially its own leaders. This sentiment applies to all generations, not just younger people. I know of many who have left the church in their 60's and 70's after years of faithful practice. For them the Catholci church has no moral credibility. For them replacing one set of bad behaving clergy with another set incapable of ethical and moral reasoning (beyond the narrow church rules) is inadequate.

What you disagre with may be a cheap shot, but you owe your readers some specifics about how and why it is a cheap shot.

Michael Skiendzielewski - I actually agree with Fr. Whitt re: the responsibility to save the perp.  That particular point may not make my top ten on the list of issues that come from child abuse, but I guess it goes on the list somewhere.  I'd just note that it can be done in jail.  I don't need to tell you, a former police officer, that jailhouse conversions have been known to happen.  My advice to a bishop who is concerned for the welfare of the perp's soul is: take care to ensure that the prisons and jails in your diocese have vibrant and well-funded prison ministries, and leave the perp's welfare to them.  And then spend a lot more time personally reviewing the files of accused abusers in the rank and file of your clergy, and be ruthless in rooting out the bad actors.

 

In reading this tale of Nienstedt, Haselberger and McDonough, the image that springs to mind is a variation on the old cartoon gag: Neinstedt sitting at his desk looking indecisive, with Haselberger perched on his right shoulder with angel wings and halo, whispering into his ear, "Remove Wehmeyer from ministry", and McDonough perched on his left, with horns, hoofs and pitchfork, whispering, "Make him a pastor".

 

It seems that perhaps you haven't bothered to read the comments posted prior to yours.  It's been mentioned multiple times above.  I have also read it in the public media several times in the past two weeks. 

  • My comment, posted at 6:34 pm, was intended as a reply to the comment that the connection of Fr. McDonough with staff in the Obama administration has not been mentioned.  I'm not sure that is obvious from its placement. Sorry.

Mr. Proska,

With regard to the section you quoted —"...stop pretending that these failures had anything to do with policy" — I have been wondering about this question for some time.  My own opinion, backed up by only a little evidence that has so far surfaced, is that this crisis may be based upon clericalism, but  in fact happened because of secret Vatican policy (based upon clericalism) requiring bishops to act as they have, pretty much the world over.  If it were not policy, and not rigidly enforced, one would expect more behavioral variation among bishops. 

IMHO, this line of investigation could stand a little more attention.  If nothing else, it might make a difference in the outcome of some of the litigation now underway.

I seem to be the only one who finds it troubling that legal activity between men and other men is now being brought under the remit of the crackdown on child abuse; there is little attempt to distinguish the two categories. A priest propositioning another priest, or a 19-20 year old, may be deplorable, but it is not illegal, and bishops have no duty to report it to police. The call now seems to be on bishops to scrutinize and discipline the entire sexual lives of their priests, on the chance that they might one day be involved with minors. In the wider social frame, gay men who visit cruising spots or watch adult porn or are interested in men younger than themselves come under the radar of suspiction and are touched by the spill-over of the panic about abuse of minors. Given America's notorious puritan heritage, I see dangers to civil liberties rising here.

I undertsnad how practicing Catholics are focused on a process for the church to finally deal with the failures of its bishops.

 

But the Ex-Catholics I know (having left the church at differnet ages, including the 60s and 70s) focus on the failure of the Catholic Church, from Rome on down, to teach their hierarchy moral reasoning and simple human decency. instead the church has simply taught that anything goes as long as you follow church process. Their comtempt for the sacredness of family and the imperative to protect the innocent reveals a corruption mjuch deeper than 'poor process."

 

A church that is incapable of teaching its leaders moral reasoning and ethics holds no credibility. It is a failed institution from top to bottom. It has no moral credibility and fussing around with procedures will not repair the fact these these men are totally lacking in moral maturity. Why? Becasue the church has inculcated in them a warped, anti-human way of thinking. These morally irresponsible, immature men remain in authority and Catholics meekly accept accept this and even support them out of "loyalty." Yikes!

Hey, Grant --

Here's a compliment for you from Rod Dreher over at his blog at The American Conservative.  It's in the post called "It Takes a Village to Torment a Child".  He begins with: 

"I drew attention yesterday to Grant Gallicho’s excellent, lengthy post about the new sex abuse allegations in the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Gallicho sticks it to the archbishop and his men pretty hard, but he doesn’t let the laity off either. Gallicho:..."

Then he quotes you and there's an interesting discussion.

 

Rod Dreher | The American Conservative

Jim Jenkins,

If I had been at that meeting, I would have been tempted to call out to God asking why Divine Justice has not struck down these fools who are destroying the Church.

His sexual behavior did not include known abuse of children at that time. What rule is a bishop to follow in such cases? Should all priests found to be sexually active be dismissed? That would be 80% of the clergy according to Richard Sipe!

Last post is a "reply" to one on Wehmeyer above. A man so active in soliciting adult males including fellow clergy would not in fact stand out as a potential pedophile, would he? Perhaps the authorities were afraid of confirming the view that gays are all potential abusers of children..

Jim Pauwels says that Wehmeyer was a "criminal priest" and a "bad guy" who should have been removed from ministry. But there was no criminal activity alleged at the time (unless the reference is to drunk driving). Should all priests be transparent about their sexual lives? Should all bishops make public whatever they know about priests' sexual lives? 

Fr O'Leary, it is clear that the man had a troubled sexual life, and his unwelcome propositions and suspected involvement with prostitution would have been just as much of a red flag if they had been with women instead of with men. The point is not homosexuality but an unhealthy attitude towards sex  (and no one on this thread other than you is deducing a link between homosexuality and sexual abuse of minors). Authorities could have been attentive to danger signs. They were not. Even when presented with cases of pornography, they stayed blind and deaf, saw no evil, heard no evil. It is irresponsible.

Which fact are you talking about?  The FACT that Fr. McDonough is the brother of Denis McDonough?  MPR went out of its way to highlight this FACT when Denis was appointed chief of staff for the greatest proponent of abortion on demand in a long time.  That's a fact too, Helen.

Sure seems to be a FACT that Fr. McDonough covered things up.

 

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2013/01/25/politics/kevin-mcdonough-on-brother-denis

 

 

Fr. O'Leary - your comment caused me to go back and review the details and the timeline.  In my first reading Grant's post, I had understood the possessor of the thousands of images of child pornography to be Wehmeyer (who, according to the post, did eventually plead guilty to 17 counts of possession of child pornography).  I now see that the three disks with thousands of images belonged to a second priest whose name Grant doesn't wish to publicize (although it isn't difficult to find).

 

It wouldn't be a thread on the sexual-abuse scandal if Fr. O'Leary didn't drop by to remind us all that perverts have rights too. And I certainly don't disagree. But the careful reader of my post will find that I did not assert that Nienstedt or Flynn or Roach should have removed Wehmeyer from ministry because he posed a threat to children. Now, of course, we know that he did pose a threat to children, because he admitted to molesting two of them, as well as to possessing child pornography.

My point, which should be obvious to those with eyes to see, is that the archdiocese should have known that this priest had no business being put in charge of a parish. At every stage of his career, he exhibited unacceptable behavior. The archdiocese had reason to believe he could not be trusted to carry out his ministry without scandalizing those trusted to his care, even if he didn't show signs of being a pedophile. And now, because of its bishops' failures to act, that's precisely what's happened. 

Because of your article, I had flashbacks to the 2000-2004 crisis.  Your archdiocese really is living in the past.  You can expect large settlements to cause closure of poor and working class parishes, as happened in the diocese of Cleveland and throughout the country.  You should write Pope Francis.  He would exert the leadership needed to right things.  God bless you.

Mr. Cassidy—

Well, I guess the smart ass reply would be that if it’s a secret Vatican policy, how did you find out about it, but, in all seriousness, I think the truth is even more insidious.   Namely, that there’s no secret policy but that far too many bishops found it easier to look the other way, and there was no culture of fraternal correction that was nurtured or developed.  Policy or no policy, the line dividing good and evil cuts through every human heart.   Everyone makes his choice.

My sense is that Grant’s conclusion is correct, even profound (yes, this is the real Mark Proska and I have not been drinking).

Grant, when you say "perverts have rights too", you seem to say that adult gays are perverts. Or do you mean only gays who cruise and watch porn? 

In the total context of your piece the failure to remove Wehmeyer from ministry is linked with protecting children and the animus against his superiors gains traction from that. In reality, even if they were wrong to underestimate his sexual problems, they had no apparent reason to think of him as a threat to children. 

A much wider issue is what attitude bishops should take to the sexual lives of their priests. If Sipe is correct, 80% of priests have sexual lives. Conditions of clandestinity and other factors may add a "troubling" or "perverted" dimension to many of these. What should a bishop do? Perhaps the faithful are generally tolerant or understanding, as of cases of priestly alcoholism in the past, and bishops go along with this.

Claire, I did NOT deduce a link between homosexuality and sex with minors. I said that people were accusing the bishop of not having made that deduction and of not having treated the gay man (however troubled or perverse) as a potential threat to minors.

I accept, however, that the red flag issue was his sexual obsessiveness, which would have been as troubling in a straight as in a gay man. (I did not notice suspected involvement in prostitution -- where is that? Also when you talk about authorities turning a blind eye to pornography in this case, the issue was not child pronography. Personally, I see a HUGE moral difference between adult pornography, which is perfectly consensual, and child pornography.)

"When you say 'perverts have rights too,' you seem to say that adult gays are perverts. Or do you mean only gays who cruise and watch porn?"

I mean neither. I mean Wehmeyer expressed his sexuality in very unhealty ways. This should be obvious to you. He didn't just cruise. He leaned in close to young men at a Barnes and Noble and asked, "Are you f---ing horny right now?" This was a pattern. He had no business being put in charge of a parish. That assignment gave him the opportunity to molest children. Why are you confused by this? Also, he pleaded guilty to seventeen counts of possessing child pornography. So yes, a pervert.

"In the total context of your piece the failure to remove Wehmeyer from ministry is linked with protecting children and the animus against his superiors gains traction from that. In reality, even if they were wrong to underestimate his sexual problems, they had no apparent reason to think of him as a threat to children."

Actually, it's reality that links protecting children with the failure to remove him. Because he molested the children of a parish employee--the same parish he was given by superiors who knew the review board recommended warning the parish staff of his troubled past. 

Yes, but you used "pervert" in the context of me defending the rights of "perverts" and my post was not about a pedophile's or child molestor's rights but about the rights of adult gay men behaving as such, however unhealthily, with adults. You now give new info about a "pattern" of  extremely crude solicitation of young men in bookshops, which indeed confirms his unsuitability for ministry, which I never denied. My point was that the SNAP agenda now seems to have broadened beyond misbehavior with minors to unhealthy behavior with adults. Bishops have no legal obligation to crack down on this, of course, but they have indeed a pastoral responsibilitiy, which was not met in this case. 

In short, there is an ex post facto propagation of the image of his superiors as exposing children to danger because they did not report on the priest's "troubled past" (or zany present). Though it LATER turned out that he was indeed a collector of child pornography, they cannot be blamed for not guessing that such developments would transpire. You may say that the priest was so egregiously "troubled" that they should have known straight away -- but there is a wider context -- that of 80% of priests sexually active, many in gay relationships or encounters, including bishops and other authorities -- what general policy do you advocate to handle that?

And by the way, Grant, your sarcastic tone is not helping the discussion here, on what is already a very troubling subject for everyone. I did not criticize you post but the extrapolations from it made by others before me in this combox, and I did not attack anyone in an aggressive or sarcastic manner; nor is there any need to treat me as an idiot for asking questions. I know that many SNAP followers believe that withering scorn is very effective in getting people to shut up and join the baying for bishops' blood, but in reality an awful lot of people are cheesed off by SNAP's tone, as shown in the reaction to their disinvitation of Fr Bourgeois.

Fr O'Leary,

I'm out of time to read the post again to review the specifics and address your points, that's why I'm not responding. Sorry!

Fr. O'Leary:

"You used 'pervert' in the context of me defending the rights of 'perverts' and my post was not about a pedophile's or child molestor's rights but about the rights of adult gay men behaving as such, however unhealthily, with adults."

You were talking about Wehmeyer, were you not? Because my post was about actual cases, not airy abstractions. And now we know that he admitted to molesting two children.

"You now give new info about a "pattern" of  extremely crude solicitation of young men in bookshops, which indeed confirms his unsuitability for ministry, which I never denied."

That information was in my post.

"My point was that the SNAP agenda now seems to have broadened beyond misbehavior with minors to unhealthy behavior with adults."

Not just SNAP. Critics of Archbishop Weakland regularly tried to implicate him in the scandal because of his relationship with an adult. (Of course, I'm not a member of SNAP.)

"There is an ex post facto propagation of the image of his superiors as exposing children to danger because they did not report on the priest's 'troubled past' (or zany present). Though it LATER turned out that he was indeed a collector of child pornography, they cannot be blamed for not guessing that such developments would transpire."

Again, I did not say that his bishops should have known that he would molest children. I said that he was obviously unfit for ministry, and never should have been promoted--twice, by two bishops, one of whom was in charge of the USCCB's sexual-abuse-policy committee, and another whose episcopal career has been marked by opposition to gay marriage and by calling sodomy the work of Satan. If he had not been promoted, if he had been taken out of ministry, he would not have had the opportunity to molest those children.

"You may say that the priest was so egregiously 'troubled' that they should have known straight away -- but there is a wider context -- that of 80% of priests sexually active, many in gay relationships or encounters, including bishops and other authorities -- what general policy do you advocate to handle that?"

My post was not about priests' sexual relationships with consenting adults, but about bishops who ignore clear signs that their priests pose a risk to the people entrusted to their care.

@ Grant Gallicho:  Interesting that you use the phrase unfit for ministry ... That was one of the very phrases that the Ratzinger-led CDF edited out of the draft working copy of the Dallas Charter.

It was explained to me by Levada himself that only clerics have the competency under canon law to asses the fitness of men for priestly ministry.  This is despite the fact that I personally had gotten previously Levada's sanction for the review board to offer consultation and recommendations to the archbishop about the fitness for ministry of priests who had come to the attention of the review board because of allegations - both substantiated and unsubstaniated allegations of sexual abuse.

My point is that the credibility of the church's whole regime in response to priests' sexual abuse of children is pathetic, if not non-existent.  There is NO effective supervision of clerics or hierarchs - except the feudal relations among the nobility - in the church's case, between bishops and priests.  This undermines the integrity of the entire hierarchy's exercise of authority.  

There is no accountability for the hierarchy and clerical caste.  It's no longer sufficient to lament the lack of due diligence of the hierarchy to police priest predators. We need to demand the complete and systemic reform and renewal of the Catholic priesthood from parish to pope.

 

You’ve revised your pretext from one that is “realistic” to “…when used consistently and correctly…” indicating that you now realize you were not assuming a realistic scenario, but rather an ideal one.  Did you think I wouldn’t notice?

Are there fewer unwanted pregnancies in 2013 than in 1913?   To ask the question is to answer it.  At the risk of repeating myself, I repeat myself:  It’s been a while since I’ve read something as out of touch with reality.

On a related note...

http://nypost.com/2013/10/17/adrian-peterson-could-have-7-kids-ex/ 

Did Fr Wehmeyer really use the crude and tasteless pick-up line quoted by Grant or is it Grant's own imaginative reconstruction? I had imagined he had used some cleverer line such as, "My God! You're really handsome!"

That's not clever.

And yes, he really said that. We know because one of the young men he hit on was troubled by the encounter and talked about it to another one of Wehmeyer's parishioners, who took statements and reported it to McDonough.

Maybe you should read up a little bit before opining on things you're not very familiar with.

Guess it's not clever, but certainly cleverer than Fr W's. Now, I commented on this based only on the info in your piece, so I was puzzled about the new info you then added, and then said you had not added; now it appears I must "read up" in order to comment at all; but I fail to see any new info that alters the correctness of my initial perception that the panic about child abuse has now extended to panic about priests whose behavior with adults is iffy -- and extending that to the wider society I foresee trouble for any men who try to seduce (or make out with or pick up or proposition or whatever the most up to day US expression is), whether tattily or cleverly, any younger person of whatever gender. Witch hunts always end up impinging gravely on civil liberties, as indeed has already happened: http://josephsoleary.typepad.com/my_weblog/2013/05/wake-up-and-smell-the-witchhunt.html

Oh, I see, the pick-up line was in your link to http://minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2013/09/clergy-abuse/ Sorry!

 

 

I am still slightly puzzled -- I see the Curtis Wehmeyer covered in here and there as that of a "known pedophile" covered by the church authorities, but as far as I know the authorities did not "know" of his activities  with minors at all. http://facepunch.com/showthread.php?t=1310107&s=c53ebf5c8ccf6e48723facc8936c5387&p=42295297#post42295297

What a fascinating and revealing discussion. It seems that some are still focused on the escape causes provided by legalese rather than on the real moral issues.  Fr. O'Leary claims, based on Sipes, that 80% of priests are sexually active and that this does not necessarily mean they are a danger to children. And..... what are we to conclude from this?  What he says may be true - consenting adult relationships are in a different category. But we are talking about Roman Catholic priests who sit in confessionals passing judgment on others for their sexual lives and who refuse co-habiting couples the right to marry in the church.  We are talking about clergy who refuse the eucharist to divorced and remarried Catholics.  We are talking about men who tell their parishoners that using modern birth control methods is a mortal sin and use the money of those same people (most of whom use modern birth control methods) to launch an all-out war on the ACA..  We are talking about Roman Catholic bishops who have spent millions to fight same-sex civil marriage and more millions to fight attempts to extend statutes of limitations in cases of sexual abuse of minors and who have spent billions in legal settlements and attempts to avoid settlements because they failed to stop sexual predators from preying on the young.  And don't forget who is actually paying these bills - every Catholic who puts money in the collection basket on Sunday and who writes a check to the Bishop's Appeal

Grant Gallicho rightly points out that the history of the priest at the heart of this story strongly indicates that he should not have been made pastor of any parish. He correctly notes: “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.  This travesty of moral decision-making is not limited to this case but has been found throughout the global church. Current cases in the news include the Papal Nuncio to the Dominican Republic and the deacon who is also alleged to have not only been a molester himself, but allegedly procured boys for the Nuncio. The Nuncio is currently in the Vatican. Will he be sent back to the DR to face trial or will Rome protect him under diplomatic immunity? This is a big test for the new pope. Will he too follow the pattern of closing ranks around his “brothers”? Bishop Finn is still bishop. Bishop Myers is still bishop. There are more, so many more, recent cases that could be discussed. It never ends.

The problem lies with the “leadership” for whom protecting the clerical class seems to be the guiding imperative - not basic morality, not right and wrong. The sickening reality of the extent clericalism seems to have corrupted the moral understanding of the hierarchy in these cases is so painfully obvious, except perhaps to clerics themselves.

Frankly, this discussion of sheer moral hypocrisy being OK as long as kids aren't endangered seems to miss more than one point as far as many Catholics are concerned.

Catholics are taught that priests and bishops are teachers of morality. Catholics are urged to go to a priest to "confess" sins, and there is a huge emphasis on sexual morality.. Bishops are up in arms about gay marriage, while turning a blind eye to priests who are engaging in sexual relationships, including gay sexual relationships. There is a long list of bishops who are known to have had gay sexual relationships themselves - and the known cases represent only a fraction of all cases. Cardinal O'Brien, formerly the main bishop of Scotland, has to resign last year when his predatory sexual exploitation of seminarians and young priests became public. While still in charge, he vetoed a proposed investigation of sexual abuse of minors by priests. Why did he do that?  Hmmm.

The hypocrisy reeks.  But the absolute worst of the hypocrisy is that it extended to protecting child molesters. Some argue about policy and ask for "proof", as if they didn't realize that the Roman Catholic church is one of the most secretive organizations in the world.  The proof will not be found on the Vatican website. Others point out that way too many bishops all around the world have acted exactly the same way in these cases - protect the child molester, transfer him quietly, and keep silence as far as reporting his crimes. Was this due to policy? Hmmm.  Ratzinger himself refused to intervene in the case where a chaplain in a boarding school for deaf boys was molesting the students.  The church is canonizing a man who stopped the investigation into the reports of abuse committed by Maciel and actually held him up as an "efficacious model" for youth.

I have mentioned before that the main reason I stopped attending mass in a Roman Catholic parish was because I no longer wished to enable the corruption that seems endemic in this situation of the sexual abuse of children – clerics at all levels protecting priests who prey on kids. Many Catholics get quite angry with me when I say that, protesting that they are not enablers. Yet what else is supporting the status quo where bishops are not held accountable to be called other than enabling? The priests, the bishops and the entire institution are supported by the people in the pews.  Some describe the docile Catholics who complain but do nothing (such as withhold money) as "sheeple".  It seems apt.

Mr. McGrath's post of Oct 16 at 12:20 a.m. is worth repeating.  The discussion of Grant Gallicho's excellent article again reveals that many have still failed to understand the heart of the matter.

But the Ex-Catholics I know (having left the church at different ages, including the 60s and 70s) focus on the failure of the Catholic Church, from Rome on down, to teach their hierarchy moral reasoning and simple human decency. Instead the church has simply taught that anything goes as long as you follow church process. Their contempt for … the imperative to protect the innocent reveals a corruption much deeper than 'poor process."

A church that is incapable of teaching its leaders moral reasoning and ethics holds no credibility. It is a failed institution from top to bottom…. fussing around with procedures will not repair the fact these men are totally lacking in moral maturity. ….These morally irresponsible, immature men remain in authority and Catholics meekly accept accept this and even support them out of "loyalty." Yikes!

Yikes indeed.

Bravo, Ann Chapman!

The only think I would add:  The only way out of this mess is to reform the Catholic priesthood from parish to pope.  The only group capable of effecting that reform are the People - however flawed and disparate.

LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE! 

Correction - "escape clauses".

Fr. O'Leary says:

"I fail to see any new info that alters the correctness of my initial perception that the panic about child abuse has now extended to panic about priests whose behavior with adults is iffy -- and extending that to the wider society I foresee trouble for any men who try to seduce (or make out with or pick up or proposition or whatever the most up to day US expression is), whether tattily or cleverly, any younger person of whatever gender."

Obviously there was no panic about Wehmeyer or he wouldn't have been put in charge of a parish. We are talking about a real case, here, Fr. O'Leary, not an abstraction. We're talking about a man who wasn't just trying to pick up men at a bar or wherever. He hit on young men in a Barnes and Noble, men who knew him to be a priest--and it disturbed them. That is why they told a fellow parishioner, who took their statements and expressed his concern to McDonough because he had a fifteen-year-old son who was in a youth group with Wehmeyer. We're talking about a man--a priest--who drunkenly attempted to bring a young man back to his campground. Who was arrested for drunk driving. The archdiocese knew he had unhealthy sexual compulsions. And they gave him a parish. Should any man be punished for attempting to pick up another man? Not if he does so without harassing him. (Same goes for straight men and women.) But we are talking about a priest who did break the law. With children.

You can find all manner of crap on the internet. That you managed to find a message-board topic with an innacurate headline does not undermine my argument, or strengthen yours.

Try to focus on the issue at hand.

Anne Chapman, do priests refuse to cohabiting couples the right to marry in church? I sat in at the back of a village church in France a few years ago and saw a marriage followed immediately by the baptism of the couple's first child. I was told that this is quite common in France.

 

Do priests in the confessional "put a huge emphasis on sexual morality"? I think rather that most priests try to play it down, and rightly.

 

Do priests refuse the eucharist to divorced and remarried Catholics? Yes, I know the Vatican so rules, and that this rule is questioned by German archbishops among others. In practice, though, do priests implement this? 

Very few priests preach about contraception (my bishop actually told his priests it is not a topic for the pulpit) and only a mad priest would use the expression "mortal sin" in this context. 

 

 

 

"Ratzinger refused to intervene when a priest was molesting deaf pupils" -- that is a libelous misrepresentation.

Since everyone is so down on priests nowadays, let me put on record that of the thousands of priests I have known over the last 64 years, the vast majority have been remarkably humane people, and humble. I suspect that the celibacy rule has something to do with this. That is, many of the priests had failed to live out the rule (in terms of the expectations of perfect continence that go with it) and others had rejected the rule and were open to sexual experience, but all had been brought by it to situations of humbling, and insight into the complexity of life and morals. 

Fr. O'Leary, what comes through  in the exchange of comments on this site is that there seem to be alternate universes within the church - the official teachings and real life.  The defensiveness and denial makes it even worse.  The operating rule seems to be silence and hypocrisy.  Don't ask, don't tell, both on the part of the priests who are breaking their vows of celibacy and the lay people who may be using contraception or 'living in sin" before marriage. So the church mandates celibacy for priests, but, according to what you report here, most priests do not keep those vows. Your defense is that it instills humility. Perhaps. But it is a hypocritical charade.  Maybe it's time for the priests to get together as a group and demand that the pretense of celibacy be dropped. Not only would this get rid of the hypocrisy, it would open the door to a lot more candidates to seminaries.

As far as Ratzinger and the boarding school where the deaf boys were molested, there were numerous press reports of this.  Here is a link to only one story, in the NYT. If you would like to explain this and why it is a mis-representation of the situation, please do.   The same story appeared in many, many news outlets.  As usual,  it seems to the average reader (and parent) that Rome and Cardinal Ratzinger's sympathies lay with the molester, rather than the victims.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/25/world/europe/25vatican.html?pagewanted...

Perhaps you witnessed a single wedding in France of a co-habiting couple with a baby.  I assume the priest (rightly) felt it was better for the child to allow the parents to marry in the church.  In my former parish, the pastor spoke at all 7 masses one Sunday to announce that couples who were cohabiting should not approach the parish to ask to be married there. He said that if they were willing to separate, to live as "brother and sister" and be "counseled", then perhaps the wedding could go forward.  My own children are the marrying age (which is later than previous generations with most getting engaged and married in their late 20s and early 30s), so, of course, are their friends.  One couple, friends of my oldest, was told the same thing in their parish (a different parish). They had given the parish the same address when signing up for the wedding and pre-Cana and were bluntly told that if they didn't separate, they could not be married in the church. The word began circulating among my adult children's peer groups that engaged and co-habiting couples should use different addresses when they approached a parish about a wedding because otherwise they might be refused.  

Contraception?  No homilies? The pastor of my former parish (I go to an Episcopal church now on Sundays and may continue to forever if something doesn't change in the Catholic church) gave more than one homily on the evils of contraception, and made a huge deal out of it on the anniversaries of HV.  An associate priest chose the 4 pm "family" mass on Christmas Eve to deliver a homily about abortion, which infuriated the parents who had chosen that mass to take their young children to.

 Young couples seeking to marry must go through a pre-Cana course, which includes mandatory training in the Billings methods of birth control and warnings that they place their souls in jeopardy if they choose any other method of family planning because contraception is "intrinsically evil".. Reports of cross-examinations about sexual habits by priests in the confession are common. It has led many I know (including myself) to stay away from the confessonal because some priests seemed to be dangerously close to asking questions that seemed to those of sexual voyeurs.  Why risk it? The bulletin of my former Catholic parish contains announcements every week about NFP classes.  In my diocese, every parish was subject to intense propoganda about the Fortnight for Freedom during the last two years, with flyers, inserts, stories in the Diocesan paper etc.  with a great push to support the bishops' war against the Affordable Care Act. And whose money pays for all this - the 90% of Catholic couples who use modern birth control instead of the highly problematic and very unnatural Billings method.

As far as communion for divorced and remarried Catholics goes, I will admit that I don't have firsthand knowledge of that. To be honest, I don't know many divorced and remarried Catholics and I have been married 40 years.  The suburban parishes where I live are so huge (with anywhere from 2000-4000 families), it is likely that none of the priests would even know if a divorced and remarried without annulment Catholic took communion, because they know so few of their parishoners personally.  Another case of don't ask, don't tell?

Perhaps it's time to get rid of the hypocrisy - of mandatory celibacy that so few priests follow, according to what you write, the teaching on birth control, the denial of communion to divorced couples, the hypocrisy of forcing engaged couples to "separate" or "live as brother and sister" before their weddings - all of it.

 

 

@ Ann Chapman:  Kudos again for your superb posts.  Your wisdom and insight give added weight to the proposition that if Papa Francesco is really serious about renewing and reforming  the church, he needs to entrust this task to the PEOPLE, not the hierarchs or clerics.  That's right, us sheeple in the pews have to do the job!

You make one salient point that really gets to the heart of the matter, but perhaps, in a way most Catholics either don't think about or would rather not:

In my diocese, every parish was subject to intense propoganda about the Fortnight for Freedom during the last two years, with flyers, inserts, stories in the Diocesan paper etc.  with a great push to support the bishops' war against the Affordable Care Act. And whose money pays for all this[!!!]

From my own experience investigating priest sexual predators for the SF archdiocese, the sad fact is that all of the $billions spent on predator priests and made it easy for them to prey on mostly children:  how they recruited their victims; how the silence and acquiesence of parents was bought; out-of-court settlements that ensured that the stories of survivors would never be revealed to the public;  the costs of lawyers and public relations consultants used to deflect public disgust from complicit hierarchs;  and on, and on.  You get the picture:  The systematic sexual abuse and exploitation of children costs a lot of money - and it is still going on to this very day!

All of this is funded and underwritten by the charitable donations of us sheeple in the pews.   We Catholics essentially have paid for all of it.  The complicit hierarchs and the predator priests have been able to conduct this scandalous fraud on Catholic people is because WE Catholics have allowed these men unlimited and unaccountable access to literally $billions - a good portion of it is salted away in their investment portfolios.  

Since the Catholic Church operates under the insidious and odious legal principle of corporation sole - where the bishop literally OWNS every nicklel and dime, every inch of property, every stick of furniture in the diocese - the hierarchs have no checks and balances on their power to fund their political hegemony over the church.

[This is why we have witnessed on-going horros in Kansas City, Newark, Philadelphia, Boston, Wisconsin, Ireland, Germany,  and on and on.]  

No longer can we Catholics plead un-willful blindness.   None of those very really simple, pastoral things that you, Ann, list at the end of your post will ever come to pass unless the PEOPLE take matters into their own hands. 

This, I believe, is the real Holy Grail for those who hope the church escapes extinction and oblivian: Critical to any reform and renewal of the priesthood MUST be to SEPERATE the MONEY from MINISTRY - forever!

Let the People Decide!

Pages