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The Nienstedt shuffle.

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

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

MPR led by asking why Nienstedt didn't go to the police after learning about the priest whose computer apparently contained "borderline illegal" photos. Here's Nienstedt's response:

NIENSTEDT: The analysis completed in 2004 did not find evidence of possession of child pornography. The images that [former chancellor for canonical affairs Jennifer] Haselberger showed to coworkers were of pop-up ads. Pop-up ads are unsolicited and often attach to the hard drive without the user's awareness or permission.

The St. Paul police completed a 7-month review of the same material from the hard drive that was analyzed in 2004 and came to the same conclusion: there is no evidence of possession of child pornography.

Not quite. What really happened is that in 2004--when Harry Flynn was archbishop--it was discovered that a computer that had belonged to a local priest contained thousands of pornographic images. The archdiocese hired a firm to investigate, and its report found "borderline illegal" images on the hard drive. Even though Minnesota law requires priests to report suspected child abuse--which includes child pornography (defined broadly to include "lewd" displays of genitalia)--it appears that no one with the archdiocese called the police. The priest was sent to treatment, returned to ministry, and the report--along with copies of the hard drive--ended up in the chancery basement.

It wasn't until last year, while Jennifer Haselberger was checking up on the priest (because Nienstedt was considering giving him a new assignment) that the '04 report and discs again saw the light of day. In memos to Nienstedt and other diocesan officials, she quoted the report at some length. She printed a few of the images and showed them to Nienstedt. And apparently her interventions had an effect on the archbishop, because in May 2012 he composed a letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, seeking guidance. In that letter, he acknowledged that the priest has possessed "borderline illegal" images. Nienstedt even shared his concern that he could be subject to criminal prosecution. But he didn't send the letter. And he didn't call the cops.

When Haselberger showed him the "borderline illegal" photos, she reminded Nienstedt in a subsequent memo, he did not dispute that they were pornographic. But now he does. Now he repeats the non-expert opinion of Fr. Kevin McDonough--who had served as vicar general under retired Archbishop Harry Flynn, and at the time was Nienstedt's "safe environment liason"--that the images were not pornographic, but rather pop-up ads, "unsolicited, [which] often attach to the hard drive without the user's awareness or permission."

First, Nienstedt repeats McDonough's opinion as though it's fact. It's not. Haselberger rejected McDonough's assessment in a memo to Nienstedt. And no one has suggested that the report itself floated the idea that the images came from pop-up ads that magically installed potentially illegal images to the priest's hard drive. It's disingenuous for Nienstedt to pretend otherwise.

Second, that's not really how pop-up ads work. If you're innocently browsing, say, the website containing the State of Minnesota's statute on child pornography, you're not going to see pop-up ads for kiddie porn. But even if you are looking at legal pornography sites, how likely is it that they're surreptitiously installing child porn on your computer? The images wouldn't be that hard to trace.

Does he think Minnesota Catholics haven't read MPR's own excellent reporting (pace the deeply confused president of the Catholic League) on this case? Has he? Because a person who had actually read up on this case would have a hard time keeping a straight face while claiming that

St. Paul police completed a 7-month review of the same material from the hard drive that was analyzed in 2004 and came to the same conclusion: there is no evidence of possession of child pornography.

Nienstedt makes it sound like the police reviewed all the evidence they asked for and determined no crime had been committed. Again, that's not what happened. What happened was the police phoned the chancery and asked for the evidence Haselberger told them about, and a diocesan attorney made them wait before handing over a few discs--and, crucially, he withheld the report. Nienstedt asserts that the police had "the same material from the hard drive that was analyzed in 2004," but the investigating officer wasn't so sure. "Whether these discs given to me were the actual discs or copies of those discs after first asking for them, I do not know," he wrote in his report.

Of course, Minnesota law doesn't care whether a mandated reporter has proof beyond reasonable doubt that abuse has occured. It merely requires him to notify civil authorities when he has reason to believe abuse had occured--and suspecting possession of child porn counts because kids do not pose themselves for such photos. Nienstedt told MPR that he hasn't broken the law. But the case isn't closed. The police have reopened it.

In his column, Nienstedt ritually acknowledges the heinous crime of sexual abuse and apologizes to victims. "Over the last decade some serious mistakes have been made," he admits. But he doesn't name them.

He says he's learned a good deal over the past several weeks. But he doesn't say what those lessons were.

He says "we must also be committed to honesty and transparency." A good start would be not shading the truth when answering predictable questions from the media about what happened on his watch--questions Catholic parents in the Twin Cities deserve answers to.

He promises to "recommit today never knowingly to assign a clergy member to a parish or school if I have concerns that he will do harm to the community." But it's 2013. Boston blew up over a decade ago. Why should a Catholic bishop have to "recommit" to the obvious?

He notes that "there is also a question as to the prudence of the judgments that have been made." But whose judgments? Recently resigned vicar general Fr. Peter Laird? No, the archdiocese said, "he did nothing improper." Nienstedt prefers not to say. The task force he appointed to investigate this mess is supposed to provide some answers, but its work will hold value only to the extent that it's willing to name names.

Mistakes don't get made by no one. And no one is confused about where the buck stops in a Catholic diocese.



Commenting Guidelines

Bishops will do the absolute minimum that the narrowest possible interpretation of civil and canon law requires them to do – an interpretation that they themselves make, and which the public, the police, and the courts may not agree with.

Nor will bishops suffer any consequences from the Vatican. Francis has removed a bishop for an overly-expensive construction project, but he has removed no bishop for egregious mishandling of sexual abuse allegations. Money matters are more important than the souls of children.

In some ways I almost feel bad for these bishops.  I can't say I have ever been in a comparable situation, but it must be awful to have to face the fact that one or more of your priests is involved with child sexual abuse.  I doubt that was what the good Archbishop signed up for when he was named Archbishop. I guess my first reaction would be to hope it is wrong and that it will go away.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.  So after about 15 minutes to let it settle in, he, and any other prelate, needs to immediately contact the priest in question and let him know he is being suspended pending an investigation, then immediately contact the proper authorities and let them know of the accusation, and finally, report the matter to the appropriate diosesan review board and let it do its investigation.  Sometimes if you need to take an action, it is best to just do it.  I honestly think that a lot of these bishops don't "protect" their priests so much out of ill intent, but more out of almost a kind of fear that they  will be make a mistake.  Then they "lawyer up" and strat parsing words and phases which just makes things worse.  Better to be ciriticized for doing what is ultimately the right thing than for being to cautious.  Child sexual abuse is an awful thing.  You don't want to be wrong in making an acusation, but they don't seem to get that they need to take strong steps to protect children first.  The rest will work out. 

The evidence reflects that protecting children first is NOT the mission of the Catholic bishops.  I no longer think they are confused.  I think they are being threatened with being outed for their sexual activities by perpetrators.  And they are trying to survive.  Ain't no room in their hearts and minds for the protection of children.  They're protecting themselves.

I was just listening to an interview with Jennifer Haselberger at NPR ...

I don't believe the bishops have been confused, I think they know exactly what's going on and have made the choice to protect themselves at the cost of the children.  Why won't Francis address this issue?

The evidence reflects that protecting children first is NOT the mission of the Catholic bishops.

Certainly, that seems to be the case with Nienstedt and these two priests (not to mention other specific cases we've discussed here, in Newark, St. Joseph-KC, Joliet, LA, etc.).  At the risk of coming across as an apologist, though - there is also a good deal of evidence that clergy in dioceses across the US were removed according to the norms of the Dallas Charter.  These cases tend not to attact as much publicity - and perhaps they shouldn't be considered newsworthy, as it really should be the norm, the normal course of events, that these cases are expeditiously and justly settled.  But these cases are part of the body of evidence, too.  And there is other evidence - for example, all of the safe-environment training that has been administered to what must be tens of thousands of employees and volunteers.

Overall, there is considerable evidence that bishops do take protecting children more seriously than they used to.  I'd suggest that the conclusion to be reached in all this is that some bishops - perhaps many or even most - from time to time fall short of the high standards we demand and expect.  Sometimes they get it right, too often they don't.   That they don't get it right more often, still today, in spite of everything, is perplexing and infuriating.  And as I say, I am not writing this to excuse their failings.  The failings are unacceptable, and there is little doubt that bishops who have failed can do better.  

But if our conclusions are going to be guided by the evidence, then we should acknowledge that there is also a large body of evidence that complicates or even contradicts the sweeping conclusion, "protecting children first is NOT the mission of Catholic bishops".  I don't think the evidence, on the whole, leads us to that broad an indictment, and am requesting that we go where the evidence - all of it - leads us.


The huge amount of energy commenting on this case that refers to "borderline illegal" porn and "sexual misconduct" with adults suggests that there are no cases of actual child abuse left to get worked up about. 

Enough flapping lips - we need: 1) a grand jury investigation of possible child endangerment actions by the top officials of the archdiocese of st paul & minneapolis, the diocese of winona, the diocese of st cloud, the diocese of new ulm, the diocese of duluth, and the diocese of crookston.  AND we need:  2)  these named Minesota dioceses to release the names of the credibily accused abusive priests.  AND we need:  3) law enforcement armed with subponeas and search warrants for the 'secret' priest files of each of the dioeses.

Bob Schwiderski


Fr. O'Leary: Fr. Wehmeyer was given access to the children he abused when he was promoted to pastor of the parish where their mother worked. He abused those children last year. In addition to admitting to abusing those kids, he admitted to seventeen counts of possession of child pornography.

Possessing child pornograpy is a crime. And a mandated reporter (in Minnesota, priests are mandated reporters) must notify authorities when he reasonably suspects someone to possess child pornography. Last year Bishop Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph was found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse when he didn't go to the police after being told one of his priests had potentially illegal images on his computer. 

These are not small matters.

Thank you, Grant Gallicho.  

The huge amount of energy commenting on this case that refers to "borderline illegal" porn and "sexual misconduct" with adults suggests that there are no cases of actual child abuse left to get worked up about. 

This  type of loophole defense of possession of child porn by a priest is very disturbing. 

Fr. O'Leary, do you really believe that child porn and its possession is nothing to get "worked up about"?

Perhaps you would like to clarify your meaning because if you truly believe this, it is truly shocking.

How many other priests (and bishops) believe that possession of child porn should be kept secret by bishops?  I do hope your comment is not representative of many. 

Creating child porn is the sexual abuse of children. Buying child porn is sexual abuse of children. That is why it is a crime and that is why possessing it is a crime. It is truly sickening to know that some priests do not see possession of child porn for what it is.

Grant: I'm glad to see that you have picked up on Arhbishop John Nienstedt''s debatable behavior. I live in Duluth, Minnesota, and I have been following this ongoing story. You've done a fine job of highlighting the story, Grant.

Thank you Grant. And shame on you Fr. Leary.

David Clohessy, SNAP, 314 566 9790,


I did not realize that Jospeh O'Leary was a priest. It is attitudes like his, minimizing the perversions of his colleagues (or tacitly or actively approving of them) that has led us to the problems we now have with sexual misconduct of minors in the church.

But his attitude is not surprising. Problems with psychosexual development in priestly formation is something that formation directors need to look more closely at.

That he would publicly display his complete and total lack of awareness is pretty surprising as he is otherwise an intelligent man.

Rev. Reginald Whitt, professor of canon law at University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis - Director of Task Force, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

"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 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.

"....He (McDonough) told the archbishop and Eisenzimmer that he had spoken with a nun who had expressed concerns about Keating over the years.

The "bottom line" to that conversation, McDonough wrote, was that she was certain Keating had never committed a sexual act with any underage girl before or after his ordination.

"On the other hand, she expressed a great deal of concern about a longstanding pattern of behavior that she knows to have influenced several women, including herself," McDonough wrote.

"I proposed to her the phrase 'inattentive seductiveness' and she said that she thought that was very accurate," he wrote...."

Okay, you make the call.......which of the two is more professional and ethical?.........Archdiocesan "investigative skills" or their "child protection skills"? Forget both items, where the hell is the LOGIC?

In Philadelphia, our leadership uses the phrase "boundary violations" in place of your "inattentive seductiveness". The rest of the US Catholic faithful understand such conduct as "sexual abuse".

Michael Skiendzielewski

Captain        (retired)

Philadelphia Police Dept.

If bishops view priests as "theirs," then whose are the abused children? All this attitude dos is perpetuate "us" vs " them," and the clergy will lose that battle every time. A word to the wise should have been sufficient a long time ago, but apparently not ... yet.


Bob Schwiderski is RIGHT ON!:  Let the broad investigations begin.  And let the chips fall where they may.  Too many children are at continuing risk!

Howevery, there are SOOOO many things WRONG with some of the posts to this blog stream, so little time to write an appropriate comment.

@ Joseph O'Leary:  It is really sad to see you cling to your delusions and misinformation, expressed with such gusto.  Maybe you can't help yourself.  I can only conclude that you are trafficking in willful ignorance.  My only advice to you:  IF you are an ordained priest in good standing, you should consider surrendering your faculties for ministry until such time you get some professional help and continuing education about child sexual abuse.

@ Jim Pauwels:  Much of your speculations are [I HOPE] just the result of denial and ignorance - seeds sown by US hierarchs in their campaign to confuse and muddle public perceptions.  You state some really astonishing whopping falsehoods that US hierarchs have been able to plant in the media, and subsequently, within the US Catholic population.  

I consulted on the drafting of the so-called Dallas Charter - I was in the room when it was being proposed.  The Dallas Charter, as amended and revised by the Ratzinger-led CDF, is little more than a public relations gimmick contrived to obfuscate the truth, and deceive the American public about:  

(1) How canon law works, and that it is nothing more than a protections racket for complicit hierarchs and child-sexual predator priests;

(2) How to this day it is the on-going POLICY of the Catholic hierarchy - directed out of the Vatican - to contain the pervasive malignancy within the priesthood, using the vast financial resources of the church, to delay and deny due process and redress of grievances for survivors, and thereby deny them justice for the assaults upon their persons, most when they were defenseless children by sexual-predator priests.

[IMHO, most of the problem - like in Minnesota - is the result of US hierarchs having unlimited, unaccountable and unfettered access to literally $billions with which they have financed a phalanx of lawyers, public relations consultants, hush money to survivors and their families, the very financing of the abuse and exploitation - it takes a lot of money for these predator priests to assault and exploit children.  The hierarchs do it because they can.  Like most humans they are vulnerable to the corruption of absolute power.  We must separate the MONEY from MINISTRY!]  


There is NO EVIDENCE to assume that American hierarchs have turned the corner on their disasterous response to the rape and sodomy of children by priests, as you contend.  If it were so, as in one of the very examples you cite, Robert Finn would NO LONGER be bishop of Kansas City.  ZERO TOLERANCE, indeed!

Each new set of revelations here in the US and around the world lead us to one conclusion:  The Catholic hierarchy is hopelessly corrupt, and is dangerously alienated and irrelevant to the vast majority of Catholics around the world. 

The whole clerical-hierarchial system has been corrupted.  This is not about individual evil, but about a system that celebrates narcissism, that allows good men to devolve into little more than corporate hacks protecting the bottom-line instead of the Gospel.  

Papa Francesco himself has perhaps said it best when he described the curia as "the leprosy of the papacy."


George D, I have been so shocked by some of what Fr. O'Leary has written that I decided to investigate - to see if he is really a priest. Apparently so.  He is a professor of English literature in a university in Japan.  There is an entire collection posted online  of what he has written as comments on this website.  I sincerely hope that these thoughts are not shared by many priests.  He is listed as a priest on the website of the Diocese of Cork and Ross.

Anne Chapman, Grant Gallicho, George D., Jim Jenkins -- I accept the bishop's claim that he did not shield KNOWN child abusers or expose children to danger. I think all of you would be well advised to check the accuracy of your indignant outbursts.

It seems futile to correct the deliberate misunderstandings of Anne Chapman, as I have answered her on this very point previously. I have said that child porn is evil, but that fretting about "borderline legal" porn is a bit OTT -- porn sites assure their customers that all models are over 18 but of course they are often made to look as young as possible. About the "pop-ups", Grant makes some sweeping statements, but he should investigate what the two priests were liable to have stumbled on in their internet searches. That Grant and George should claim to see no difference between the actual abuse of children or use of child porn and the "borderline illegal" stuff or the "sexual misconduct" with adults says a lot about their own moral perceptiveness (which indeed regularly on this website overflows into the utterly libelous claim that I excuse child porn or child abuse -- I protested about this to Molly Wilson O'Reilly, Grant Galicho etc. about this nasty debate-stopping technique, but they prefect to disgrace Commonweal that sit down an reflect coolly!. As to Jim Jenkins, I wonder if he writes under the influence of something, since his posts are so consistently wild that they can only radically undermine the cause he claims to represent.

In any case, my simple point remains: unable to get bishops jailed for tolerating child abuse -- since of course they do not! -- the SNAP fanatics are now focussing on more iffy areas -- adult sexual behavior with adults, or "borderline illegal" cases where the models in porn just might be under 18. Most of those foaming and frothing here have probably seen mainstream movies (such as Ozon's "Jeune et jolie") with 17 year old heroines shown making love, but their right hand does not know what their left hand is doing!

Fr. O'Leary: You continue to ignore the facts of these cases. McDonough speculated that the images were pop-up ads. He saw only a fraction of the photos on the hard drive. And Haselberger disputed that assessment. Why do you prefer McDonough's assessment? The report that the archdiocese refused to turn over to the police called the photos "borderline illegal"--that does not mean "not illegal." It means "could be illegal." That's when the law expects mandated reporters to notify the police. Thanks, but I'll pass on your invitation to run the search terms that report found on the priest's computer, which included "helpless young boys." 

I didn't claim to see no difference between abusing children and possessing child pornography. Both, however, are reprehensible, and illegal under U.S. law. 

Interesting that Ms Chapman gives a link to Fr Tom Doyle's rather nutty attack, based on his reading of artfully selected morsels served up by his Dulcinea, Carolyn Disco (the full context of these was deleted by Commonweal, but I presciently kept a copy of the whole debate, in which Ms Disco's tactics are on full display). Fr Doyle is Irish like myself, and prone to rhetorical excess, as in his suggestion that the Vatican should be sold to the Mormons. A truly zany Snappist, Gerald Slevin, retired Irish Catholic lawyer, calls for priests to stop distribution the Eucharist -- imposing an Interdict -- in order to get bishops jailed. He flogged his conspiracy theories on the Association of Catholic Priests website, until they failed to post one of his missive, and he threw a tantrum, shaking the dust from his feet. This sort of immature behavior is one of the factors dragging SNAP into disrepute and bringing a huge swing of sympathy toward beleagured bishops and popes (for of course Benedict and Francis are the choicest targets of zealous SNAP lawyers like Slevin). These people are being seen, through their own stupid tactics, as ideologists with no genuine concern for the protection or welfare of children. 

Grant Gallicho, I did NOT suggest that you see no difference between child abuse and possessing child porn. I said that you treat borderline illegal as the same as child porn and therefore as something to be reported to the cops mandatorily. 

Another inaccuracy, Grant. The priest searched "helpless teen boys" not "helpless young boys" -- you distort this item in the direction of pedophilia. I ran the google search "helpless teen boys" and, behold!, only 5 matches turned up, three of them about this case, including your own Diocese of Wobegon entry. 

You keep missing the point. Mandated reporters are required by law to notify civil authorities when they have reason to suspect child abuse--this includes the possession of child pornography. Haselberger tried to persuade Nienstedt to report the images because they looked like they could be illegal. The law doesn't impose on mandatory reporters the duty to find out once and for all whether the images are illegal. Obviously that's up to a court of law.

I have explained this several times now.

My mistake. But my point stands. I have distorted nothing. "Free naked boy pictures" was another of the search terms turned up by the investigator. What would it take for you to be concerned about such searches? "Free naked boy pictures that are definitely illegal to possess"? I suppose we should take comfort from the fact that the priest destroyed one of his computers when the archdiocese asked for it?

I'm still not running that search (your own results do not support your theory about the way pop-up ads work, but I don't expect you to let that undermine your certainty).

Here is a somewhat obscure document,  which seems to show that full examination of the porn collection found no evidence of child pornography. Maybe what Chapman, Bond, Jenkins, Gallicho want is to expel from the priesthood any priest who watches porn of any kind. But such a crusade, whatever its merits, really has nothing to do with child abuse.

I don't have a theory about pop-up pictures (I am not even clear as to what they are), but I think that before dismissing Fr McDonough's theory you could have run an empirical check on how they work.

Wow, my eyes have been opened. If the priest googled "free nake boy pictures" he would indeed get a link, at the top of the list  (male-zone), that shows a vast array of porn images of boys who mostly look under 18 (200 pics). This is so easy to access that it can be regarded as in the public domain. Is this website illegal? I suggest that it could be this very page that provides the zealous inquirer with her material, so that Fr McDonough's explanation is substantially correct. I did a brief empirical check, whereas Grant pontificated in the void. America is a thoroughly hypocritical society, evidently awash in teen porn of a borderline illegal kind.

I did not have a "certainty" as Grant falsely alleges, but now that I actually did the test that he refused to do, I have a clearer insight into why the priest could indeed have just accessed pop-ups of this kind, so that Grant's accusation that Fr McDonough is lying is itself an unjustified claim.

So you don't really know what they are but you're pretty sure you know that I'm wrong about them? Sounds like you might be out of your depth.

I don't buy McDonough's theory because he didn't write the report--and he offered it eight years after it was written. He filed that report away soon after it was written, and stuck a note on the discs warning against putting them into an internet-connected computer. Now why do you think he did that? Because he was convinced that the images were totally legal?

I don't know what "obscure" document you're referring to. The archdiocese has not released the report. The police never saw it. And the police don't even know whether they have the full library of images that were originally found (the ones Haselberger saw--a library that included a photo of what looked to her to be a minor performing fellatio).


I didn't run the search because I presumed, correctly it appears, that a man who has amassed a collection of 2,500 pornographic images knows how to find them. Those search terms wouldn't have been on his computer if at least some of them hadn't worked. Also, we're talking about something that happened nearly ten years ago. Do you think you've discovered something that a forensic-computer expert didn't think to include in his report on the priest's hard drive?  

I didn't say McDonough was lying. You're getting sloppy.

What forensic-computer expert are you talking about? The forensic experts who examined the pornographic cache did NOT find evidence of child pornography.  Here is the "obscure document" I was talking about (forgot to attach the link).

Oh, Haselberger herself is the "forensic computer expert"? This is getting circular.

I suggest that the who business of possessing pornography has become a ridiculous legal quagmire. As I discovered just now, I am one click away from a display of 200 lewd and obscene photographs including boys that look very young. The Salem witch hunters would have had a field day if their victims had computers, for the Internet offers immediate access to all sorts of things, and one click could get you burnt!

No, his name is Gary Johnson (are you even reading what's been written about this? His name is in the police report you link to). He was hired by the investigators contracted by the archdiocese in 2004, when a local Catholic man came into possession of the priest's computer, found a bunch of pornographic photos on it, and took it to the chancery. I wrote up all of this the week before last. It's been covered in several stories I linked to. Maybe you should read a couple of them. The expert found "borderline illegal" images. Shall I say it again? Just because the report did not say "this is definitely child porn" does not mean that the images were not child porn. It means they might be illegal. How could the expert know the age of the people in the photos? And Haselberger herself told Nienstedt that she believed they looked like minors. Looked like. That's reason to report. 

That document you've linked to is the police report (which I linked to and commented on in my first post on this) filed after Haselberger called the cops. It's not a "full examination" of the evidence. The investigating officer said that he doesn't know whether he was given all the images, and the archdiocese refused to provide the study in question. From the police report:

"The report states in part that thousands of images were downloaded from the computer of pornographic images and included what appeared to be a prepubescent boy performing oral sex on another male. The report concludes by saying the writer would be surprised if it were not illegal. The box did not contain the actual computer itself and its whereabouts are unknown at this time."

2,500 porn images sounds vast but one click accessed 200 porn images on one display page, so ten clicks of so could be sufficient to get the priest into this hot water.

No, the report claimed he had downloaded them, which is not the same as viewing them on your computer. Sounds like you're out of your depth, Fr. O'Leary.

So one image turned up among 2500? But that image could be in the batch of 200 that I just accessed a few minutes ago with one click. A zealous investigator could scrutinize all 200 image and find it. In a medium so porous to porn, and so retentive of all images, as the internet and PCs, I suggest that the police confine their attention to the providers of such material rather than chase after the users. The description of the apparently under-age image as "pop-up" is not necessarily an opinion contrary to fact, as you state, but could be a fair account of the sort of stuff we are dealing with. 

So if I now downloaded, by a third click, the pop-up display page that I found by two clicks (google, and the first link at the top of the google hits) I would be a criminal. I suggest that this sort of policing has little to do with protecting children and that if SNAP gets so bogged down in this (with lots of randy orchestration from the sidelines about Niedstedt and his little club of pedophiles etc., etc.)  the public will be more disgusted with SNAP than with the bishops, who probably are showing more genuine concern for children.

My foray into the world of internet porn has been eye-opening. The site I looked at seem to be a USA product and such sites seem to be hugely popular and widely accessed. I imagine there are millions of American men who could be branded as pedophiles, abusers, etc. by someone who had access to their computer -- a perfect formula for witch-hunting. The whole thing stinks of hypocrisy.

Re: pop ups

Google records your computer IPs searches and gives that information to advertisers. Websites sell space to advertisers and what  "pops up" is ads that are consistent for most of what you are searching for. So if you are always searching for health info, pop ups will come up. If you are searching for porn then those pop ups will come up,

This priest had THOUSANDs of actual images actually saved to his hard drive. As in click ""file" and then "save as". He was not accidentally searching .

Thus, naturally there will be pop ups because there is actual porn being searched and saved. Also the pop ups are in the same kind of search category. If you are looking for mature women then you are not going to get pop ups of young gay boys. Not going to happen. You will get BASICALLY what you are searching for,

Even if it is not illegal strictly speaking (e.g. The models are over 18 - maybe but I would not trust the porn industry on this. They also claim that the regularly ensure that actresses and actors are tested for AIDs and this has been debunked over and over.)The priest believed that they were not and that is what is problematic. We get lost in the legalese of all of this. 

The  archibishop's "pledge to restore trust" in his weekly coumn is indeed very weak.

- He starts by recalling his parents' death, unrelated, but is that th best he could come up with for an example of experiencing pain? Could he not talkt about someone else's pain, rather than something that appears to try to draw sympathy upon himself?

- " I want you to know that I have been praying for all of you. I am experiencing that pain, too. The media have been filled with all kinds of accusations and unanswered questions. There is cause here for sadness, confusion and anger." In other words he is sad, confused by and angry at the accusations. That's not the reaction I would wish to see. What about questtions about himself, regret and remorse?

-" we all hoped and believed that the horror of sexual abuse of minors by clergy was behind us. Yet, the painful reality is that abuse did not stop in 2002. This is unacceptable. As the head of this local Church, I know that the ultimate responsibility here is mine."  Actually, no. It is impossible to stop sexual abuse completely, just as it is impossible to stop murders completely. What is unacceptable is sexual abuse that could have been prevented by paying attention to prior signs. By claiming to take responsibility indistinctly for everything, he is avoiding taking responsibility for his own concrete errors.

- "And so, with genuine sorrow, I apologize to all those who have been victimized, whether on my watch or not." Again, by offering such a sweeping apology that encompasses everyone and everything, he avoids actual apologizing for his own faults.

- "No member of any parish or school community should have to worry about the safety of the very environment in which we seek to impart and live out the Gospel message of Christ." ... "We must also empower the community, particularly children and parents, by educating them about the warning signs of abuse".  So, which is it ? Should we not worry, or should we learn to be alert to warning signs?

- "We must also be committed to honesty and transparency. This must be the result of our own self-examination, inner purification and spiritual renewal. Parishioners rightly expect their clergy to be men of God and to be holy by pursuing personal conversion daily." He is channeling pope Benedict here : "Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives. This must arise, first and foremost, from your own self-examination, inner purification and spiritual renewal. The Irish people rightly expect you to be men of God, to be holy, to live simply, to pursue personal conversion daily." But it's a different context, and the words that gave me a bit of misplaced hope then are out of place here. 

- "And, of course, we must cooperate with civil authorities. " - versus pope Benedict: "Besides fully implementing the norms of canon law in addressing cases of child abuse, continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence."

- "I realize how damaging such actions are in violating the care of their human dignity. The sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult is reprehensible, morally repugnant and goes against Christ’s teachings to promote goodness, life and light. This is not who we are as the Catholic Church. Abuse is a violation of both the love of God and the love of neighbor. Sexual abuse of anyone is absolutely heinous, and it must be opposed with every fiber of our being." This is too much. I agree with Grant's description of this as "ritualistic". Then, you'd think that once he says "every fiber of our being", he's reached the climax, but he continues - there is even worse than that: " And when it is perpetrated by a member of the clergy, it is an egregious betrayal of a sacred trust." It does not (to me) come across as authentic indignation, but just a pose.

- The only sentence worth remembering of the entire column:  "I have ordered a review of all clergy files by an outside firm. We need to ascertain the facts, and this will lead us to prudent and ongoing disclosure."

Fr. O Leary


There are several issue here. One is your behaviour as outlined in the snippets from Ann as relayed by Fr. Doyle. Couple that with the fact that you are from Ireland where there has been a lot of problems with priest molestation. And couple that with the culture of Irish Catholicism that historically has revered the institutional church and its representatives. This has led to a certain entitlement mentality that is immune from any kind of accountability. This is evident in your online demeanor as far as can tell.


As far as commonweal editors reflecting cooly with you, I think that it is difficult to reflect coolly with priests who come out of an entitled tradition and are not accustomed to accountability. You are accountable for your words and language and the odd comment here or there could be excused but there seems to be an entire pattern all around a similar theme; namely priests and sexual relationships with young men. 


The church is not just the priesthood but it obviously includes it and many priests have been disappointments and embarrassments to the community as a result of their behaviour in this area. It needs to be corrected and not excused, minimized, spun, etc.


We all need to work together on that.

"It is impossible to stop sex abuse completely" -- but the bishop is talking about a much more limited task -- stopping sex abuse by priests in his diocese completely -- this should be quite practicable. He failed in not pursuing those iffy priests more diligently (indeed would have done well to suspend them)-- perhaps he was distracted from his pastoral duty by the intense focus on legality, just as the 2,000,000 Americans who report child abuse to the law every year are said to be over-complacent about the effectiveness of their action, and are distracted from undertaking the commonsense neighborly intervention that could actually protect the children.


George D. if I used your own anticlerical and actually racist logic, I could say that as a middle-aged, well-off,  white male American, etc. etc., -- the task of filling in the blanks I'd rather leave to you. As to my "behavior" as "outlined in the snippets from Ann as relayed by Fr Doyle" -- the snippets are actually collected by Carolyn Disco, I do not know how many of them come from Ann Olivier, who is a very unreliable witness.  If you are seriously concerned about the abuse of children by adults, you would not be horsing around with this sort of fantastical ascription of motives. Perhaps it would be good if you could explain where you come from, what experience you have, and what is your concern with these issues other than looking for clerics to bash?

George D, of course he was not accidentally searching, but given the facility with which porn can be downloeaded, having THOUSANDS of such images is not very stunning -- I stumbled on 200 images that were "borderline illegal" just with one click, and I could have downloaded them with another click -- would you come along with your posse to take me off to the clink? or organize a lynching? The question is not whether his porn collecting was admirable, but whether it was clearly illegal, so that Abp Nienstedt in turn was in breach of the law for not mandatorily reporting it. People seem too anxious to tar the bishop with such illegality, though the grounds for that are flimsy, and I wonder if they are really motivated by any concern for real-life chidren.

Fr. O'Leary: Have you read much about this case? Because it sounds like you're just freewheeling here. Pronouncing on this or that aspect of these cases even though it's rather obvious that you don't know very much about them. And what is your level of experience as a computer user? Because the more you write about how websites work the less confidence I have that you're competent to assess McDonough's non-expert opinion.

Try to remember that an actual forensic computer expert found borderline illegal images. Nienstedt himself cites that report--the one the archdiocese refused to turn over to the police--in his unsent letter to the CDF. In that letter, Nienstedt writes that "pornographic images [plural, not singular], possibly of minors under the age of fourteen" were found on the priest's computer. He quotes from the report itself (the one that was filed away in the chancery basement with a note from McDonough warning against putting the discs into an internet-connected computer): "Many of the homosexual pornographic images viewed by this investigator and the computer analyst could be considered borderline illegal, because of the youthful looking male images."

Many. Not one. Many. You're minimizing. 

Nienstedt continues, explaining the priest's behavior during the '04 investigation: "During the investigation, [the priest] denied responsibility for the images discovered by the parishioner, claiming that they were viewed by a houseguest...who lived with him in his private home intermittently from 1999 to 2003. [Later the priest admitted to viewing adult pornography.] As part of the investigaion, [the priest] was asked to turn over to the investigator the two laptops he was known to have. Alter initially indicating a willingness to do this, [he] later refused to make his first laptop computer available to the investigator or the archdiocese.... [He] also admitted to destroying the second laptop when he learned that the parishioner had found pornography on the first."

Nienstedt knows he's exposed: "My staff has expressed concern that the fact that CD-ROMs containing the images remain in the oleric's personnel file could expose the Archdiocese, as well as myself, to criminal prosecution." But he didn't call the police. Why would someone so exorcised by pornography and the growing acceptance of gay marriage--someone who claims sodomy and porn are the work of Satan--sit on this hands rather than report these images that he admitted might depict children under the age of fourteen?

That is the relevant question.

Was Archbishop Nienstedt's failure to report actually a breach of the law?


In all honesty, I do not know. Perhaps it was not. Perhaps it was.

If it was, then he probably would prefer not to say anything self-incriminating.

However, at the present time, Archbishop Nienstedt is on trial in the court of public opinion, not in a law court.

For understandable reasons, he may fear that legal charges could be brought against him.

Nevertheless, with or without legal charges against him, Archbishop Nienstedt is going to have to explain why he is NOT guilty as he is suspected to be by some of his detractors.

I assume that if legal charges are brought against him, he will enter a plea of "not guilty" -- unless he wants to make a plea deal and plead guilty to something to get out of the situation.

Thus far, Archbishop Nienstedt does not sound like he understands the import of what people are saying about him and the diocese.

Instead, he sounds like he thinks he can talk his way out of the situation.


Grant: In your post @9:28am, you have posed an excellent question.

In the spirit of the Devil's Advocate, I will suggest a possible answer.

We have a fight/flight/freeze reaction.

Archbishop Nienstedt's "fight" reaction was not activated, as you and others think it should have been.

But "flight" was not an option.

I would suggest that he "froze."

Moreover, I would suggest that he is still in a "freeze" reaction. This is my admittedly speculative explanation of why he sounds like he does not undrstand the import of public concern about his failure to report.

Next, we should consider why he might have had a "freeze" reaction. But I do not know enough about him to speculate about this. Evidently, something about this situation caused him to "freeze" and "sit on his hands," as you put it.



 If you are seriously concerned about the abuse of children by adults, you would not be horsing around with this sort of fantastical ascription of motives.

I have no idea what your motives are. All I can do is base it on your public behaviour. And yes, when that behaviour is:

  • isolated in terms of demographic categories of perpetrators (age, gender, profession)
  • viewed in the context of an admittedly permissive and uncooperative hierarchy
  • understood in terms of priestly formation of a particular era
  • understood in a cultural context, in this case Ireland, that has historically given rise to clerical excesses and abuse

It is not hard to see how this could have permetead your consciousness and informed your behaviour. All I am doing is publicly outlining for you what anybody who is remotely aware of these issues is going to be led to believe. 

That nobody has pointed this out to you before is surprisng.

I will be perfectly happy to share my personal experience and background if you think that would be helpful.