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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. 

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?



Commenting Guidelines

"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..." 

Why is Nienstedt still Archbishop?

Sigh. When does it ever end?

Grant - excellent analysis and timeline.  Well, you may want to add another breaking case from Flynn/McDonough's time:

Victim approached Flynn/McDonough in 2006 - no action taken.


"Archbishop of Wobegon!"  That is really good!  I never thought I would see Grant Gallicho write:

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.

I'm overwhelmed to see anyone from the Commonweal brain trust finally join the altar call on the scandal of the hierarchy's complicity in the sexual abuse and exploitation of children by priests and bishops.

All of us in the survivor support community have been sounding the alarm for years that practically entire hierarchy [including most priests] are hopelessly corrupt and complicit in these crimes.  Minnesota is only the latest sorry chapter in this sordid tale of corruption of the corporate hierarchy who narcissistically hold themselves above the civil laws that for them only apply to us serfs.

Face it, canon law has been twisted into little more than a protections racket for clerics, especially hierarchs - that is the real back story in Minnesota.  No where in the body of canon law can there be found anything resembling a Bill of Rights for real people articulating due process and equal protection of law.  It's all about the conservation and protection of clerical feudal power.

When I served on the SF review board, now Cardinal Levada returned from consultations at the Inquisition [I know, the CDF - "a rose is a rose, is a rose"] with then Cardinal Ratzinger in attendence.  Levada explained to me that Ratzinger was requiring several modifications and revisions in the so-called Dallas Charter.

The effect of these revisions was to neuter the purview, integrity and independence of the review boards in its investigations of abusive priests and bishops.  As constituted, these review boards were dominated by lay men and women.  [What was of particular "concern" for the CDF was that the review boards had membership including women - that would put women in a position to have "authority" over clerics.  This was unacceptable to the CDF - read, Ratzinger.]

This story out of Minnesota is particularly confirming for me of my own theory that wherever women had a critical role in the process of investigating child abuse by priests that on balance the abuse either stopped, or was mitigated, or eventually was reported to authorities - where jail time has a very sobering effect on hierarchs and priests.  

In other words, from a meta point-of-view, involvement of women in the process of reviewing priestly abuse of children, children were SAFER in the long run.  Sadly, as the Minnesota case demonstrates, women's involvement does not prevent the abuse from continuing.  We should commend Jennifer Haselberger for her sacrifice for integrity, justice and the safety of children.

The story emerging from Minnesota only reinforces for me that the hierarchy, as it is presently constituted, is dangerously alienated and hopelessly irrelevant to the lives of practically every Catholic.  

Catholics must take responsibility for our part in maintaining a clerical culture over the decades, even centuries, that has encased the hierarchs [including too many priests] in a narcissistism that has rendered them incapable of ever regulating themselves and conforming to normative social boundaries.  Clerics believe themselves better than the rest of us, and above the law.  

Catholics have also given these same hierarchs unaccountable and unfettered access to literally $billions which only feuls their continued belief in discredited ideologies and protects them from the normative moderating restraints of human life.  [Especially the moderating influence of women on the behavior of emotionally immature men!]

It's time for revolutionary change.  The Catholic priesthood must be reformed and renewed from parish to pope.   We must seperate the MONEY from MINSITRY - forever!


Yet again, an excellent post, Grant. How long, O Lord, how long!

Jim Jenkins is correct. Put independent lay woman in charge of every diocesan abuse review board. When a woman ,e.g.  Judge Burke, was in charge of the national office, results were accomplished. . [Bishops are afraid of dealing with lay woman.]

Grant is a prophet! He exposes the truth. 

"For there is no truth in their mouths;
    their hearts are destruction;
their throats are open graves;
    they flatter with their tongues.


Make them bear their guilt, O God;
    let them fall by their own counsels;
because of their many transgressions cast them out,
    for they have rebelled against you."


Pope Francis has shown slim interest in sexual abuse scandals, but maybe he will help indirectly if he is willing to encourage reforms that would transfer power to lay people.

Meanwhile, I do my own monitoring of the children and youth around me, as best as I can. I really do not want any of them to become a victim of sexual abuse because of lack of vigilance on my part! That awareness of possibly dicey situations is not something that comes naturally, but I hope I'm getting better at it. 

I had liked Archbishop Flynn. Now I can't see any reason to not start with the assumption that a bishop is complicit in evil.

Before the usual suspects start prattling on about "it's all those damned homosexuals," pay attention to the link the Bill deHass posted above.

I can't get past the irony of the caption under Archbishop Nienstedt's photo:  Family As the Foundation of Culture

Of course he was on the attack against the movement for marriage equality:

"Today, many evil forces have set their sights on the dissolution of marriage and the debasing of family life.  Sodomy, abortion, contraception, pornography, the redefinition of marriage, and the denial of objective truth are just some of the forces threatening the stability of our civilization.  The source of these machinations is none other than the Father of Lies.  Satan knows all too well the value that the family contributes to the fabric of a good solid society, as well as the future of God’s work on earth."

Query for the Archbishop-- which "force" has dissolved more marriages and debased more families -- the movement for marriage equality or the long history of predatory abuse of children by Catholic priests with heirarchal complicity?

One wishes the Archbishop would invoke phrases like "the machinations of the Father of Lies" to describe what has happened (continues to go on?) in his own Archdiocese.


Jim Jenkins:

Let us remember:

It was the principal of the parish school, who wrote a letter of concern to the diocese of Kansas City describing her observations and those of parents about the "inappropriate conduct with children" by Ratigan and his suspicious photography of vulnerable children. It went nowhere and if memory serves, she got no response.

It was a Mercy nun, who testified at the trial of Msgr. Lynn in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that computer disks and magazines with sexually graphic content addressed to a priest in the parish where she was Director of Religious Education, were accidently found in her mailbox. She informed the archdiocesan vicar for the county in which she resided and also the pastor who told her to stop spreading rumors about the priest.  Eventually she was fired.


One has to wonder if the inconpetence level is high as the integrity level is low. A low level management person would know enough to see how covering up and sending pedophiles back to children is an organizational disaster. We know that JP II/Ratzinger appointed mediocre bishops. Maybe like Hanley these priests have something on others and are able to manipulat them. The fact that Wejmeyer  would actually call Hasselber protesting is huge let alone the top of hubris. Looks like he and other misfits are calling the shots.

Bill, I wonder if you are right and there is something going on. Has there been some hidden blackmailing behind the scenes to explain the inaction and abnormal cluelessness? 

Thanks, Grant!

How long will this continue?  I think it will continue until married men and women are allowed to be priests, bishops, popes.

I am struck by what well-credentialed candidate Ms. Haselberger is for a leadership role in the Church.

In one of the article's linked in Mr. Gallicho's posting, her father bemoans she will never have another job in the Catholic Church.  Am I being too optimistic to think that the winds off the Tiber are changing enough that her father may be wrong?  If Pope Francis really wants, as he has said, the CDF and the Vatican in general, to act more decisively on the sex abuse crisis--then he should be able to find a position for Ms. Haselberger in the CDF.

Helen:  one has to wonder if the lack of attention to the two reports that you described was (1) based on an unwillingness to hear the truth, or (2) an unwillingness of maledom to hear well documented, highly founded criticisms from women.

One really does have to wonder.

I am sure that Gerelyn is in the (2) camp ... as am I btw.

Thanks, Grant. A brilliant post!


A/B Niedstedt has always refused to allow marriage ministries like Engaged Encounter and Retrouvaille be mentioned or posted on the ArchDiocesan website. Why? .. they are lay led ministries.. He and the seminary are in charge of marriage. He sent out 200000 dvds protesting same sex marriage... at what cost? 

Jim J. --

Absent corroboration from Cdl. Ratzinger himself, I wouldn't trust Cdl. Levada's version of what Ratzinger said..

I agree with others that this is a well-considered and insightful post.

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.

Allowing for poetic license with “entirely,” this is an essential truth, and nothing but the truth, but it’s not the whole truth.   Why is there no outrage directed toward the actual perpetrators of the despicable acts?   Is there an outrage that dare not speak its name?   I do not think Pope Francis will shy away from speaking truth to power.

FWIW, I wonder if Ms. Haselberger is a mother.

Bill M. and Claire -- I wrote the comment below before I read your comments.  As it shows, I agree.


We need to ask again:   *why* have American bishops behaved in criminal ways against the interests of children?  The usual answer is that it's the influence of their aged, dysfunctional culture which blinds them to their own faults.   But at this point in history many bishops no longer act in their old self-protective way, and many seem to be trying to truly change the culture.


So what explains the behavior of the exceptions -- the bishops who are apparently continuing in criminal ways, bishops whose actions continue to fly in the face of  clear evidence against them?  The bishops of Minneapolis are far from the only ones.  Isn't it time to ask *why* they are so recalcitrant?  One answer that has been suggested but not pursued is that their behavior might be explained by blackmail.  This is a very ugly question to ask, but Isn't it time to look into the hypothesis that blackmail of particular  bishops sometimes happens?  It's not a secret that some bishops are themselves gay.  Are some of them being blackmailed?  (It has already happened in two very conspicuous cases.)  


And, yes, there are other reasons for blackmail besides homosexual behavior which also might explain the recalcitrant behavior.

OK, Ann Olivier, I'll bite.

What are some of the other reasons for blackmail that might explain the recalitrant behavior -- besides homosexual behavior?

Are the other reasons for blackmail aspects of clerical culture, or separate from clerical culture?

Thomas --

The reasons could any sort of moral failure.  Could be theft, use of diocesna funds to speculate on the stock market, or sex with a woman,  especially adultery, or lying to Rome about an important matter, or anything else a bishop would want to remain hidden.

(Lying to Rome?  Hmmm.  Wonder what might prompt that.  My short story writer's  instincts are running wild:-)

My point is, we musn't allow ourselves to remain naive.  We did before to disastrous effect.


Thanks, Grant. A terrific report.

Additionally, what is puzzling is the apparent low profile of Federal prosecutors and the FBI in the St. Paul's Archdiocesean investigations.. Possession of child pornography is a Federal crime as Bishop Finn's protected pedophile priest, now serving a 50 year sentence in a federal prison, painfully found out.

Hopefully, the widely reported role here of Fr. Kevin McDonough is not affecting the Feds' assessment or efforts. He is the brother of President Obama's Chief of Staff, who has sometimes played a significant role as liason to Catholic cardinals and bishops. Time will tell.

For more discussion, please see my remarks on my website, ,especially my latest remarks, "Pope Francis Earns Low Grades on Reform So Far:, accessible at the link:

I like Jim Jenkins points of view !

I agree that we shouldn't be naive. It seems that you and I have exchanged views about that before -- with respect to Pope Francis.

But back to the St. Paul - Minneapolis situation.

Are we supposed to imagine that one priest-perpetrator knew about the moral failings of one, two, three, -- how many of these guys involved in his case? -- and was able to blackmail each of them?

The sheer number of guys involved in mishandling this priest-perpetrator's case seems to me to rule out that he was somehow able to blackmail each of them.



Jim, Judge Ann Burke and lawyer Bob Bennett even went over and met with Cardinal Ratzinger in 2003 to plea for a tougher standard of bishop accountability. She was conned, in effect, then often treated with disdain by cardinals and bishops who called her "interim" chairman for two years since she was a mere woman.

She hung in there because she is a devout Catholic, and a good mother and grandmother. She pressed forward notwithstanding the patriarchical resistance, as good mothers always do.

Nevertheless, she has publicly indicated on several occasions in recent years that the US bishops' charter is ineffective in its current form.

The farce now in the St, Paul Archdiocese is you have a Domincan lawyer, Fr. Whitt, investigating his Vatican superiors, Dominican Archbishops Mueller and DiNoia, at the CDF. You know how independent that will be.

In Kansas City, the investigation of Bishop Finn was done by a major outside law firm, whose reputation was on the line. The final report was quite objective. The St. Paul Archdiocese should do as much, but will not under Pope Francis' fully endorsed CDF's child "protection" group, now run by Cardinal Law's former canon lawyer from Boston.

Since its almost World Series time, I leave you with the profound insight of that great Italian "moral philosopher", Yogi Berra : "It's deja vu, all over again".

Crystal knows what is needed.  

Terrific article.  More compelling evidence that all the safe child programs are useless as long as clerics still dithrer with the evidence.    Kind of tiring that the hierarchy remain the obvious culprits.When are ordinary parishioners and priests going to step up and. in words of bishop Robinson, "For Christ's Sake, Stop the Sexual Abuse of Children Now?  What is needed is an interdict, the cessation of celebrating mass by priests and attendance by lay persons until Pope Francis gets off his modified throne and acts like a shepherd for the least vulnerable members by canning hierarchs complicit?  Interdict is a Roman invention to get the flock in line.  Priests and people need to invoke it.  Don't worry - if you can't have physical communion, there is the time honored Roman tradition of spiritual communion.  Who'se to say which is more efficacious, and delivers more grace?  Save the children first!

Grant, another great achievement in reporting on the scandal. I congratulate you again for the time it takes to research the details and present the issue so effectively.

The issue of blackmail is very relevant. From Celibacy in Crisis (2003) Richard Sipe, p. 259-260:

 “The second systemic element that generates abuse is sexual practice within the celibate system. Quite simply, some priests, novice masters, superiors, confessors, and so on, develop affective relationships with students, seminarians, or younger priests, that violate celibate boundaries.

Dr. Barry M. Coldrey, an Australian historian, describes the dynamic…of a “sexual underworld.” …Institutionally, the network of this underworld can and does evolve into blackmail. (underline added)

Clerics hold knowledge against their bishop or vice versa to establish or maintain their position. Dozens of firsthand reports – some horrendous and Byzantine – exist…Bishops know a great deal about each other’s sexual history. It is not uncommon for authorities to use knowledge of hidden scandalous behavior to keep each other or a religious institution in line with the threat of public exposure…the power of the underworld is tremendous.”


Retiring from the field of law enforcement here in Philadelphia, there is nothing better to capture the attention of criminals (in this case, alleged child sexual abusers and conspirators/abettors) than the cold steel of handcuffs, fingerprint ink on the extremities, the spartan and unexciting cuisine of detention centers, and the appropriate fashion statement of the orange wardrobe.

As evidenced by the past few years of proceedings here in the City of Brotherly Love (the legal, genuine variety), local archdiocesan Catholic leadership have begun to realize just how serious their predicament really is, i.e., investigating legitimate abuse allegations, failing to act on the danger to children and subsequently moving (or hiding) the offender to another location, whether inside the archdiocese or elsewhere, where other children are placed at risk due to the CRIMINAL CONDUCT of both the abuser as well as leadership co-conspirators.


"The sheer number of guys involved in mishandling this priest-perpetrator's case seems to me to rule out that he was somehow able to blackmail each of them."

Thomas --

On the contrary, I think not.  If bishops are loathe to rat on priests, how much more loathe must they be to rat on bishops.  And if a guilty party, such as Wehmeyer seems to be, knows that both prior bishops and the current one have stuff to hide (some involving himself!), won't the later bishop(s) be even more motivated to shut him up and keep the case under wraps?

See also Carolyn's sad comment that follows ours.  It's possible that there are lavendar cliques in some dioceses and that they include some bishops.  I strongly suspect that the reason some dioceses have had so very many cases of abuse is that at least in some cases certain bishops have consciously tolerated it or been blackmailed into tolerating it  There.  I've said it.  So  very tragic.  

Officer Skiendielewsky --

Thanks to the Philadelphia police force and your district attorney and his office!!  There has been real courage there.  The rest of us are in your debt.

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. 

He's free to do so - and in various ways, key staff may collaborate.

I know very little about Flynn except what is reported here and that he is an elderly man - born in 1933, so he's 80 years old now.  Is it reasonable to infer that he's "old school", and as such, may never have really processed internally what is necessary in a case like Wehmeyer's, i.e. that this is a bad guy who needs to be removed from ministry?  (Not seeking to excuse here, but understand this astonishing failure to act decisively).

But In the case of Nienstedt - I'm just flummoxed.  He's not a St Paul - Minneapolis priest, so presumably has no background or deep friendship or ties of any sort with Wehmeyer or McDonough.  (Probably a good reason not to run with the blackmail theory).  This article by Robert McClory, recounting a spat from Nienstedt's days as bishop of New Ulm, portrays Nienstedt as capable of strong and decisive (if not well-advised) action.  The default expectation has to be: he knows better.

The priest shortage casts its shadow over this series of episodes.  Criminal priests not only left in ministry but given significant responsiblity.  It may be that the pressures of a thin bench lead to perverse decisions.


I sent an appreciative note to Jennifer H. Please do so if you can.

"It may be that the pressures of a thin bench lead to perverse decisions."

jim P. --

You've got it exactly backwards.  

As to Bishop Flynn being naive because he's 80 years old, that's utter nonsense.  I'm 83, and you'd have to be quite senile not to be aware of the seriousness of the charges. 


Thank you for this article and thank you Jennifer Haselberger for you courage and your dtermination to expose the truth and therfore protect kids.

Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511.,
"SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

Bill Mazzella wrote, “I sent an appreciative note to Jennifer Haselberger.  Please do so if you can.”  What a great idea.  On  the website (the link is in Bill’s comment), there’s a direct email address for her.

As for another “independent” investigation, offered by Nienstadt this time, here are a few questions for its members to keep in mind (thanks to law professor Marci Hamilton, who has “labored in these vineyards before.”)

1.  What access will investigators have to all files they wish to examine? NOT as defined by Nienstadt. Ordinary and secret archive files, whether in archdiocesan custody or somehow resident at a legal counsel’s office, or perhaps sent to Rome for safekeeping?

2.  Full copies of the forensic report quoted by Haselberger and others, but kept confidential so far by Nienstadt?

3.  Interviews under oath allowed with anyone the panel wants to question, without reservation/ interference by Nienstadt or any other source? For example, all priests, diocesan personnel (current or former), any person who worked on a prior investigation? All must be accessible for verification of victims’ stories, to provide fresh evidence, and required to tell the full truth about theirs and their colleagues’ activities --- with no silence to preserve any rule against scandal.

4.  Do investigators get to use the dictionary definition of “credible” or Nienstadt’s?

5.  Will investigators be free to go public with any obstruction they encounter? Will their names, their report and back-up documents be released in full to the public?  No conflicts of interest for members; no panel member can be removed by Nienstadt.

Jim Jenkins and Jerry Slevin would also be knowledgeable about stipulations for an investigation with integrity.

A final note regarding the prevalence of bishops’ violations of their duty of care toward children:

According to the Dallas Morning News in June 2002, two-thirds of bishops failed to respond appropriately.

I wrote back in 2007 that up to then, grand jury/district attorney/attorney general reports in Westchester County, NY; Rockville Center, LI, NY; Philadelphia, Boston, Manchester, NH, and Portland, ME; document releases in those dioceses, and in Orange County, CA; Dubuque, IA; Chicago, San Diego, Santa Rosa; Fort Worth, Burlington, VT; Covington, KY, Providence, RI – indeed anywhere discovery has forced the release of documents, the same pattern of transferring priests, failure to report, and criminal endangerment of children is obvious.

Of course, St. Paul/Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Peoria, Wilmington DE, Newark and Kansas City are of more recent vintage.

Let’s be specific about NH and what the AG found here:

“the Diocese was willfully blind to the danger its priests posed to children”

“the Diocese exhibited a “flagrant indifference” to its obligations to protect children by engaging in a “conscious course of deliberate ignorance.”

“the Diocese acted purposely and to demonstrate its consciousness of guilt.”

“the Diocese “knowingly” endangered the welfare of a minor”

The question needs to be, “Where has a Diocese not given evidence of such conduct, once full access to secret archives was gained through a court order or other legal action?”

A former Justice Department official here remarked to me how similar the actions of dioceses across the country were; the playbook was essentially the same throughout. 

I agree with Gene Palumbo and and Bill Mazzella about writing to Ms. Haselberger.  Can I also suggest we write to our local ordinaries and encourage them to hire her -- either locally or at the USCCB?  Also write to Archbishop Muller at the CDF.  This woman does not deserve to have her career of service to the Church ended and clearly she is someone qualified to help the Church move in the right direction.


As to Bishop Flynn being naive because he's 80 years old, that's utter nonsense.  I'm 83, and you'd have to be quite senile not to be aware of the seriousness of the charges. 

No, Ann, you misunderstand me - and in a way, you're making my point.

I don't think Flynn was naive.  My view is, if you ask these guys - Flynn, Mahony, Myers and the rest - who inarguably have shown poor judgment in specific cases, with tragic consequences, they will look you straight in the eye and tell you that they want to protect children.  They will bore you with all the administrative details of the things they did during their tenure to ensure that children are protected: all the funding they devoted to it, the people they hired, the policies they put in place, the independent auditors they brought in, etc.  They will place their hand on the Dallas Charter and swear allegiance to its letter and spirit.

And yet each of their records is stained with horrible failures to act.  How can this be?  

Nobody (except the perps) is in favor of abusing children.  It's not difficult to sit in a meeting room with one's peers, considering some case study of some other priest in some other diocese, with a white board filled with facts, and conclude, "he should be removed from ministry".  We play a virtual version of that game here at dotCom all the time - I played it myself a few comments above this one.  But when these prelates are confronted with real people, for whom they are responsible and with whom they may have a relationship, there is something about the subjectivity of the situation that makes what should be really simple, really hard.  It's the same sort of difficulty that a spouse who can easily diagnose problems with other marriages, faces when trying to figure out what went wrong with his, or when a parent who can clearly see what should be done with someone else's troubled children, struggles to deal with his own.  

Again, this is not to excuse what these leaders did or failed to do.  The fact is - they failed. 


Thanks, Carolyn. I am generally invisible on this site since I took on the powers that be two years ago for Commonweal's poor record, in my opinion,  of challenging bishops over abuse cover-ups. Grant has now caused me to change my opinion completely.

The reason the different dioceses appear to be following the same playbook is that there is only one playbook, the one JPII and Ratzinger developed at the Vatican's CDF. With some cosmetic changes, it has barely changed since Tom Doyle courageously began his journey to curtail priest abuse over a quarter century ago.

The latest and best proof of the lone playbook is Nienstedt's letter to Levada, which may not have formally been sent to keep it out of Levada's files, butl most likely was the script the Nienstedt used when he saw Levada in Rome and created only an oral record.

The new commission must have access to the CDF's files to find the real truth.

The new investigation commission Nienstedt set up is a joke from my perspective as an experienced lawyer. It is controlled by Fr.Whett, who is submissive to his local bishop, Nienstedt. and to his Dominican superiors at the CDF, Archbishops Mueller and DiNoia. The St. Paul commission members may be good people, but they are busy people with little or no strong investigation experience, even the lawyer and forensic psychologist.

Jim Pauwels and Ann Oliver are both right, which is why these investigations are best done by Federal and state prosecutors. Blackmail operates in some cases surely. Nothing else could explain some bishops' cover-ups.

But Jim is right also. It is tough to sack a priest you knew well for decades, especially since the priest shortage increases in a world where eager and qualified women and married men are rejected ffor the priesthood or no insurmountable biblical or theological reason.

My personal hope is that the fortuitous connection here of President Obama's Chief of Staff to a key actor, his brother, in the St. Paul scandal will finally flush out Obama. He needs pronto to establish a national investigation commission like Australia has sucessfully done recently. Obama worked in Chicago as an activist for several Catholic parishes and is a parent, He knows what's up. And surely his Chief of Staff knows, by now for sure.

Pope Francis, even if he tried hard (and he hasn't yet), cannot solve this pronblem as he approaches octogenerian status. In any event, his clear Argentinian record indicates he is part of this problem, regardless of his pious platitudes and appealing style.

Sorry, typos--"for no insurmountable reason"

"problem" not pronblem, obviously.

If Minn-StP turns out anything like KC-StJ, Pope Francis would do well to consider one of two options:

- Make Jennifer Haselberger a co-adjutor administrator in the archdiocese and put all administrative authority over diocesan clergy in her hands.

- Bring her to Rome and have her clean up in the Congregations of Clergy, Bishops, and the CDF.

Jim Pauwels and Ann Oliver are both right, which is why these investigations are best done by Federal and state prosecutors

I don't disagree, but federal and state prosecutors' interests are enforcement of the civil law, not solving problems within the church.  Naturally, there is a great deal of overlap when a crime has been committed by a church official, but there is also a large and critical area that needs attention that is internal to church governance and beyond the scope of the state and federal governments.   Also, federal and state prosecutors are, to some extent, hamstrung by the limits of secular law enforcement, as when the quality of evidence in a criminal investigation doesn't justify persuing a prosecution, or when a statute of limitations prevents the state from going after a criminal even when the evidence of guilt is very strong.

Grant has done an outstanding job in this post highlighting how the role of bishop, as conceived in canon law and the Dallas Charter, has gaps and weaknesses that can thwart justice.  In considering the disposition of a cleric charged with abusing children, a bishop's role clearly is judicial (as opposed to executive or legislative).  In civil law, no judge is permitted to judge a criminal case in which his own son is the defendant; the judge must recuse himself and a different judge with no ties to the family replaces him.  Yet according to the Dallas Charter, a miscreant cleric's own bishop, who is expected theologically to regard his clergy as sons, not only can, but must judge his (theological) son's case.  

One possibility, it seems to me, is to set up what would amount to a system of recusals in handling the cases of clergy accused of abusing children.  As a practical matter, this would mean that no bishop would be permitted to judge the cases in which his own clergy stand accused.  Rather than asking Archbishop Nienstedt to judge his own son, send his son's case over to Cardinal Dolan or Bishop Blaire or the bishop of some other diocese with no connection to St. Paul or its clergy.  If canon law needs to be revised to accommodate this system, then change it.


There is so much here to respond to ... First of all, if Ann Olivia NEEDS "corroboration from Cdl. Ratzinger himself" of my first-person account of my consultations with William Levada, I don't know how you can easily get that kind of corroboration from actors in an international criminal conspiracy?  Ratzinger is too busy living out his days with the nuns at the convenant far from the reach of subpeonas from the International War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague.  

Levada was an acolyte at Ratzinger's Holy Office before he returned to the US to begin his rise up the hierarchy ladder - their friends, buddies, collaborators.  One of Ratzinger's first major curia appointments after he assumed the papacy was Levada to the CDF where Levada could apply his extensive experience in Portland and San Francisco with keeping the fallout from predator priests at bay.  

Do you think, maybe, there was ever the possibility of a deal with American cardinals [several of whom with real interests in squashing any substantive investigations into the abuse scandal - maybe say Mahony, George, Law, Rigali, Egan, MaCarrick, Burke (don't forget cardinal-in-waiting Dolan) - maybe a deal with Ratzinger for the Americans' support in the conclave in exchange for one of their own [i.e., Levada] being put as gatekeeper at the CDF where Ratzinger had concentrated all the investigations of the "most notorious" of the abuse cases?  

A deal where in exchange for their support for Ratzinger, "Bill" could be the firewall preventing the raging wildfire of public disgust and indignation from touching Il Papa and his cardinal acolytes?  Maybe I'm mistaken about the dynamics of internal politics in the world's oldest feudal oligarchy?  Just saying ... 

After sometime on the SF review board, I began to appreciate the true enormity and international scope of the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, how pervasive and insidious the malignancy deep within the church's hierarchy.  

Consequently, I advised Levada personally, directly [with other witnesses in the room, Ann] that the only way to remediate the effects on the church would be to ask an outside body, such as the United Nations, to establish an international court modeled on the Truth & Reconciliation Commission led by Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu which investigated the crimes of the South African apartheid regime - with real subpeona power to compel the cooperation of our narcissistic hierarchs.

Tutu's T&R Commission allowed individuals to tell their stories, under oath, without reservation in return for amnesty against any deserved imprisonment or punishment.  The point was justice and reconciliation, not revenge.  This could work as well for the corrupt and complicit Catholic hierarchy.

Levada just sneered at me and condescendingly whined:  "The church has already done sooooo much. How could we dooooo anything more?"  [Direct quote - I'm not making this up!]  

It was at that moment I knew that the fix was in, and I drew the conclusion that the Dallas Charter and all the neutered review boards were nothing more than an elaborate public relations scheme -  hatched most likely at the Vatican - to defraud the public and obfuscate the truth. 

In the meantime ... I don't envy Papa Francesco - as some have written on this blog stream he himself personally was caught-up in this abuse malestrom in his native Argentina.  This is truly a Gordian knot he has to unravel.  At least, his heart seems to be in the right place ... We'll see.  

As long as hierarchs have unaccountable and unfettered access to mountains of money -as is the case to this day - their corruption and complicity will be enabled - by all of us.  They will continue to hide behind their lawyers, investment portfolios, and public relations consultants.  If you take away their "mad money," their hearts and minds will follow - eventually.

My advice:  Trust the People to reform and renew the priesthood from parish to pope.  Ask the People on the local level to take charge of selecting a whole new cadre of pastoral leaders.  It's the only way save the church, the only way to survive.  Seperate MONEY from MINISTRY.  

Let the People Decide!

Maybe Nienstedt's new neighbor, Donald Kettler, bishop of St. Cloud since last month, will have some advice for him.

Anyone bother to mention who the famous brother of Fr. Kevin McDonough is?  I'll give you a hint.  His boss lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Why doesn't the media bother to mention this interesting little fact?  Maybe Fr. McDonough has learned a thing or two about covering things up from his younger brother.

Thanks, Jim Jenkins, for the superb and informative comments. They confirm my earlier inferences.

I had proposed a similar reconcililation commission during last year's US election campaign and encountered the standard defensive Catholic reaction.

I told Joseph Ratzinger in my Washington Post piece in 2010 that my Harvard law mentor had already outlined the ex-pope's fate, as the Watergate prosecutor who forced Nixon's resignation. Even Hans Kung though I was dreaming. But he's gone and I am neither surpised nor saddened. God works in strange ways.

Francis will follow if he doesn't begin addressing transparently the real problems, which are more complex than rearranging the hierarchical chain of command, Your Gordian Knot metaphor is an apt one. Francis has absolute power as Alexander the Great did. Now Francis must sharpen his sword and begin slashing through the centuries of mystical webs that hide Jesus real face.