On Monday, attorney Jeff Anderson released more than 800 pages of internal document
s showing how the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis handled the case of Father Gil Gustafson, who in 1983 pleaded guilty to third degree criminal sexual conduct involving a minor
. This story had been reported extensively over the past year, and even in the weeks leading up to the document release. Nonetheless, the release quickly became newsworthy because many of the documents seemed to call into question statements made under oath by Archbishop Nienstedt during his deposition in April of 2014
The relevant testimony begins on page 64 of the deposition transcript
, when plaintiff's attorneys question the Archbishop about when he first became aware of Father Gustafson's criminal conviction. Nienstedt replies, 'I think during the- the last six months'. When I read this reply in April of 2014, I knew immediately that the statement was incorrect. The Archbishop himself acknowledges that Gustafson was enrolled in the archdiocesaan monitoring program, meaning that he received yearly reports on Gustafson's compliance and the reasons for which he was being monitored. I also was aware of correspondence with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and various lists that had been assembled by myself and others which listed Gustafson, his status, and his history. In other words, the Archbishop was aware of Father Gustafson's conviction long before the Kinsale file review, and in fact had acknowledged being apprised of it in 2010, if not before (see documents with Bates stamp ARCH-ES1-0000503, ARCH-ES1-0000504, and ARCH-048866).
However, when I received an email yesterday morning from a noted Catholic journalist asking me for my thoughts on the document release/ questionable testimony, and specifically asking if I had 'thought much
about how, or why, the propensity to lie is so common among bishops', my immediate response was to dispute that the Archbishop's testimony on Gustafson should be added to this category. Obviously, on previous occasions I have stated my opinion that the Archbishop has been untruthful in some of the statements he has made
, and I continue to maintain that position. Yet, in this instance I don't believe that to be the case.
A lie is generally understood to be a false statement made with the deliberate intention to deceive. Likewise, the crimes of both perjury and false swearing require that the action in question be willful. In other words, the person making the statement has to be aware that the statement is false. It is not outrageous to assume that Archbishop Nienstedt would recall when he first learned that one of his priest's had done jail time for sexual abuse of a minor. Facts such as those are the type that become easily imprinted in a person's memory. But, it is a leap to suggest that he would intentionally lie about that fact, especially given that the Archdiocese was at that time in the process of producing thousands of documents that would demonstrate that his statement was untrue. To willfully deceive at such a moment would be an act of enormous stupidity, and I have never believed that the Archbishop is a stupid man. Instead, I think the inconsistency evident in the Archbishop's testimony regarding Father Gustafson is indicative of an entirely different problem.
During the nearly five years that I worked for Archbishop Nienstedt, at least once a week, and often more, I would review all of the previous week's correspondence, setting aside letters, memos, and other documents that required action. By and large the letters would have already been sent (although we did sift through the mail bins on occasion) and the memos distributed. The reason that further action was required was because of the contents. As many priests can attest, it was not unheard of that two or sometimes even three letters would be sent by the Archbishop in response to a single request, all with different determinations. Likewise, a letter may have been sent even though a different response had already been received, perhaps even through a face-to-face meeting with the Archbishop. In other cases, staff would be instructed to perform a certain action, even though they knew (or thought they knew) that the Archbishop had previously provided different direction which had already been completed. Anyone who has ever worked closely with Archbishop Nienstedt is familiar with this phenomena, which causes a great deal of stress and frustration for staff and others. Simply put, it was my experience that the Archbishop had extremely poor recollection of his acts of administration. His failing to remember that he approved Gustafson's monitoring provisions on an annual basis is, to my mind, simply another example of this.
Those of you who are aware that I worked in the Diocese of Fargo after the death of Bishop Sullivan
will understand why I was so observant of these memory lapses on the part of Archbishop Nienstedt. However, I saw little else to indicate that the Archbishop suffered from the same affliction. Instead, I attributed his failure to recall certain actions, decisions, and information to a below average ability to remember what has been written or read, and I accepted his explanation that this was because of the high volume of letters he received and responded to, coupled with the stress of his position. In other words, as was the case with so many of the peculiarities of the Archbishop, we as a staff identified the problem, and did what we could to cope.
Or so we thought.
As the events of the past year unfolded, I have had to reconsider my interactions with and opinions of the Archbishop, and I have gone through the painful process of identifying and naming many of these closely held ideas as what they truly were: attempts on my part to justify, overlook, or excuse certain behavior so that I could continue to believe in him, and therefore continue to believe in the Church that appointed him. Over the past year I have been questioned countless times about the Archbishop, his work method, and his behavior. Apparently my experiences are considered to be of particular interest not just because of my resignation and decision to make public what I knew, but because prior to that my work load was such that I was often better acquainted with what was taking place than others, not to mention the fact that I was often the only other person in the building with the Archbishop when he was working during the evenings and on weekends. Time and time again I have been asked the question 'was he drinking at the time?', or 'did he seem like he was drinking at the time?', or 'had he been anywhere prior to that where he may have been drinking?', and it was only this, along with the information I received from others who had also been interviewed, that led me to research the effects that high doses of alcohol can have on semantic and episodic memory.
I doubt we will ever know for certain if the Archbishop willfully made false statements about his knowledge of Father Gustafson, just as I doubt we will ever be informed of the cause of the memory issues that I observed. Regardless, the disclosure of such information highlights not only the problems in the Archdiocese's response to allegations of sexual abuse, but also serious issues with his administration of the Archdiocese. Once again, we have been shown proof of the need for a change in leadership. I can only hope and pray that such a change will come before more inconsistencies come to light and cause further embarrassment and shame for the Church.
Yesterday, Archbishop John Nienstedt announced the reinstatement of Deacon Joseph Damiani, who was removed from ministry in June of 2014 as a result of accusations of sexual abuse of minors of which the Archdiocese first became aware in approximately September of 2012. There is no mention of any restrictions on his ministry going forward.
I had to read the announcement three times before I could reconcile what is stated with my knowledge of the situation. Since the general public does not have the benefit of the same information, let me point out three significant aspects of the Archdiocese's statement. First, it does not indicate that the allegations were found to be untrue. Rather, the statement indicates Deacon Damiani denied the accusations, while the Clergy Review Board was 'unable to determine conclusively the validity of the underlying allegations'. Second, the statement does not claim that the accusations from forty years ago are the only allegations of sexual misconduct that have been made against Deacon Damiani. Rather, the statement reads, 'there has been no accusations of any misconduct while he has served as a deacon'. Third, the statement does not clearly indicate that Deacon Damiani was not ordained until September of 2009, meaning that the Clergy Review Board's 'clean bill of health', so to speak, is limited to his conduct during the past five years.
Taking into account similar recommendations made by the Clergy Review Board regarding Father David Barrett and Father Joseph Gallatin, it would appear that a fifth action item will be necessary in order for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to move beyond this crisis: a new Clergy Review Board will need to be appointed. I do not doubt the qualifications of the current panel, nor that they are acting in good faith. However, the Board's recent decisions seem to suggest that they are too heavily influenced by civil law considerations. While in criminal law the inability to reach a conclusive determination of guilt or innocence should result in a finding on behalf of the accused, a good Clergy Review Board understands that the benefit of the doubt in cases of clerical sexual misconduct is always to be resolved in favor of the Church.
As promised, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis has sent to clergy the attestation that they are expected to sign per the Child Protection Protocols of the Doe 1 settlement. Thankfully, there is an exemption for information learned in the confessional. There is also an exemption per the civil statutes on privileged communications.
According to the protocols, the Archdiocese is to make a 'good faith effort' to secure a signed attestation from each 'clergy member' who is 'working within the Archdiocese' by March 31, 2015. So, priests certainly don't need to rush to sign and return the document. I can't see how any canonical penalty can be imposed upon a priest or deacon for failing to sign, whether the refusal is the result of principle or guilt/knowledge. In fact, it is possible that the Archdiocese met its 'good faith' obligation simply by sending out the document to each member of the clergy.
The attestation, which you can view here, requires a priest, deacon, or bishop to attest that he has not 'sexually abused a minor at any time', nor does he have knowledge of any other priest, deacon, bishop, or employee of the Archdiocese having done so. The language of the document is vague to the point of being problematic. Moreover, as I have said before, I simply do not see the point of this. No one will be safer as a result of this document, whether it is signed or unsigned. Surely the time and effort spent sending these to hundreds of clergy could have been put to better use.
Last Friday, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, confirmed that he had been told that he would be transferred from that position, presumably before the beginning of November
. That announcement was met with great rejoicing in progressive circles, and weeping and gnashing of teeth in conservative ones, but what it brought to mind for me was an intervention made by a priest, on behalf of the faithful in the pews, during a talk given by His Eminence that evolved into a discussion of the discipline of denying communion to those persisting in sin. This priest challenged the Cardinal's insistence that such denial should take place, pointing out that, in the practical sense, it was rarely the Cardinal, his brother bishops, or even their immediate delegates who were called upon to issue such a refusal, but instead the task as often as not fell to the good men and women who volunteered to serve as Eucharistic ministers, not realizing that such service to Christ would require them to determine the level of obstinacy with which their neighbors were persisting in sin. Whether the Cardinal's insistence on this point was instrumental in his impending removal is unclear (Pope Francis, by way of contrast, has spoken of the Eucharist as 'a remedy not a prize
'), but the unseen victims, if you will, of such policies and decisions is what prompted me to devote today's entry to a reflection on Cardinal Burke's legacy in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (yes, he has one).
In my mind, there are three legacies of Cardinal Burke that remain problematic in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
1. The Vocation of Father Peter Laird
I don't think it is any secret that
a close relationship exists between Cardinal Burke and the Laird family. I also don't think it is any secret that this relationship played an important role in developing Father Laird's vocation or in shaping his ecclesiastical career. Whether Father Laird would have been admitted to seminary without Burke's support we will probably never know, but when the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis was informed about why Laird was not accepted to the formation program of his choice (for another diocese) reference was certainly made to his influential supporter. The reasons for this refusal appeared to me to be almost prophetic, considering the ways in which (in my opinion) Father Laird's careerism would impact his decisions regarding handling accusations of sexual abuse
, although at least some responsibility for this should fall on Archbishop Nienstedt. In his deposition (p. 44), the Archbishop stated under oath that he couldn't recall ever asking staff to provide a priest's file for him to review, and while I give a few examples of times when I know he did do so, I have no reason to believe that he reviewed Father Laird's prior to appointing him Vicar General.
I would like to believe that things would have been different with another priest at the helm from 2009-2013.
2. Reverend (Name Redacted)
Even those of you who have read the entirety of my affidavit may not be aware that Cardinal Burke is mentioned in it, since his name, as well as the relevant details, have been redacted.
Suffice it to say that one of the priests about whom I was most concerned during my time as Chancellor, and whose incardination I strongly opposed, was a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse who had been sent to Minneapolis by then-Bishop Burke for spiritual direction. Admittedly, (Bishop) Burke was not immediately in favor of allowing this priest- whom he had found unsuitable for ministry in his own diocese- to serve in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, but his objections were overcome within a matter of months, and the priest has been serving in parishes in the Archdiocese ever since. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Archdiocese contacted me late this summer about an investigation they were conducting into the conduct of this priest
. I did not respond, as I have little, if any, faith in the Archdiocese's investigations. However, I did attempt to forward that information to those more immediately involved, with the caveat that I could not endorse the investigation or the person apparently investigating. In the meantime, I haven't heard or read of any steps being taken to protect or warn the public from any possible misconduct by this priest.
3. The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Admittedly, the Shrine is in the Diocese of La Cross, not the Twin Cities. And, there is no question that it is beautiful, and has been a site of pilgrimage for many faithful. Yet, from my vantage point as Chancellor it was hard to view it (and some others like it) as anything more than a magnet for dysfunction, largely because
of the requests I would receive for 'Testimonials of Suitability' from unsuitable priests who wished to lead such pilgrimages or attend other events at the Shrine. During my time as Chancellor requests came from those who have now been 'identified', as well as some of our more colorful characters, if you will, such as the priest who sued his parishioners after a baby monitor inadvertently picked up sexually explicit telephone conversations the priest was having with a woman from his former parish who was rumored to be his paramou
r. This impression was only confirmed in 2011 when a fellow attendee of the annual canon law conference I was attending (continuing ed money was rarely available in ArchSPM, but Father Laird was on the Board of the Shrine...) was arrested for alleged sexual assault of a fifteen-year-old girl
. Cardinal Burke was a speaker at the conference, and I believe he was present when police were admitted to the conference facilities to conduct a make-shift lineup comparing the conference attendees with an image of the assailant that had been captured on a mobile phone. I am sure you can understand that this event remains my most vivid memory of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
I wish the Cardinal well as he transitions to his new appointment, and only hope that with this matter resolved, attention ca
On September 25, 2014, the Holy See announced that it had taken the unusual step of removing Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano from his episcopal See of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.
The removal followed an apostolic visitation of the diocese and its seminaries. Prior to the removal, the Bishop had been criticized for his support for and promotion of accused priest Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity (click here to read Commonweal Magazine's serial on Urritigoity
) as well as undisclosed irregularities in the seminary which Bishop Livieres
had established. However, most news reports commented on the fact that the official reason for his removal was to facilitate unity and 'episcopal communion'. In the words of the Wall Street Journal, the actions of Rogelio Livieres created 'strife with other bishops'
If we take the Vatican at its word, this would suggest that the decision to remove Bishop Livieres resulted from three issues: his support for a priest at risk of committing acts of sexual abuse, irregularities in his methods of forming priests, and his inability to maintain cordial relationships with his brother bishops. Hmmm.... If it weren't for the fact that this was taking place in Paraguay, one might think the Holy See had taken steps to remove Archbishop John Nienstedt.
Back in July, Commonweal Magazine reported that Archbishop Nienstedt had contracted with a Minneapolis law firm, Greene and Espel, to investigate an accusation that he (the Archbishop) had made unwanted sexual advances towards a former priest. During the spring of 2014, I was interviewed by the attorneys assigned to the case, who questioned me about my knowledge of the priest in question as well as other circumstances that led me to conclude that the accusations went beyond what Nienstedt described as “improper touching (of the person’s neck)”
. In the weeks that followed the publication of the Commonweal story, I was contacted by several more seminarians and former seminarians interested in making a report against Archbishop Nienstedt. This only confirmed my belief that the investigation had produced ten or more sworn statements alleging sexual impropriety on the part of the archbishop dating from his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit, as Bishop of New Ulm, and while coadjutor and archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and that he also stands accused of retaliating against those who refused his advances or otherwise questioned his conduct. Most significantly, the investigation also looked into whether the Archbishop's personal relationship with Father Curtis Wehmeyer clouded his judgement and prevented him from taking necessary action to prevent and/or respond to Wehmeyer's acts of sexual abuse of minors
The allegations of inappropriate interactions with seminarians in Detroit and the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis uncovered by the Greene and Espel investigation are particularly troubling when one considers the impact this could have on the evaluation and formation of future priests (for a very thorough look at Nienstedt's time in Detroit, please see the google site John Clayton Nienstedt, Jr). One of the criticisms aimed at Bishop Livieres was that he reduced the program for priestly formation in his diocesan seminary from the traditional six years to four
. Surely the possibility that an Archbishop or seminary rector required or appeared to require acquiescence to sexual overtures would be at least as problematic? And, given that Archbishop Nienstedt was the principal architect of the Program for Priestly Formation currently in use across the United States, such a possibility ought to warrant timely investigation and intervention
So far, I hope I have suggested that there are sufficient grounds for an Apostolic Visitation or similar inquiry of Archbishop Nienstedt on two of three grounds tied to the removal of Bishop Livieres. Yet,
the Archbishop's supporters might point out that there has been nothing written recently about Archbishop Nienstedt causing strife amongst bishops, and they would be right. However, they would also be overlooking the fact that Bishop
Nienstedt was the architect of what remains perhaps the strangest conflict between bishops on record: Bishop Nienstedt's quarrel with his deceased predecessor, Bishop Raymond Lucker, whom Nienstedt accused of posthumous interference with his administration of the Diocese of New Ulm
. This quarrel involved not only the two bishops of New Ulm, but also the USCCB's Committee on Doctrine (of which Nienstedt is now Chair), an unnamed censor, and a handful of theologians from the University of Saint Thomas and my alma mater, the College of Saint Catherine (now Saint Catherine Universit
y). Although the unnamed censor did not find 'grave problems' with the text in question, Revelation and the Catholic Church: Vatican II in the Twenty First Century
, Bishop Nienstedt continued to denounce the views of his predecessor and urged Catholics not to read the book (a sure way to inflate book sales). Those closely following the Synod on the Family might be interested in Lucker's introduction to the book, in which he wrote of 'changing formulations of church teaching', and reaching doctrinal consensus following 'free discussion' and some factions 'kicking and screaming'. In an NCR piece on the controversy, author Robert McClory spoke with many priests and laity of New Ulm, though few were willing to speak on record. Nonetheless, McClory reported that they experienced Nienstedt as a 'top-down micromanager', 'a scolder', and someone who at times seems to 'enjoy being mean
'. This was my experience as well, and during my time as Chancellor I would frequently come across memos and other documents suggesting that Archbishop Nienstedt used the same tone towards Archbishop Flynn and Bishop Pates. And, it is generally known that Nienstedt was barely on speaking terms with Archbishop Flynn in the weeks and months leading up to the latter's retirement (hence the quantity of memos...), and point blank instructed Bishop Pates not to attend the funeral of one of Nienstedt's parents.
It is not uncommon for me to receive emails from Catholics saying that they are leaving the Catholic Church because of the revelations that have appeared over the past year. This alone would seem to warrant an investigation into what has occurred and
is still occurring. However, if such arguments are not sufficient, hopefully the similarities between what is being leveled against Archbishop Nienstedt and what led to the removal of the former bishop of Ciudad del Este
Yesterday, I wrote about the four things that I think need to happen in order for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to move beyond its current crisis, which arose at least in part as a result of my decision to work with Minnesota Public Radio to make public recent and historical mishandling of accusations of sexual abuse by clergy
Today, it is my intention to articulate one step that the universal Catholic Church can take towards preventing future sexual abuse by clergy as well as further scandal over its handling of such abuse. This step is one that will seem obvious to those in corporate, as opposed to ecclesiastical, America. To prevent future acts of abuse, and the damage caused to the faith by external revelations of wrongdoing and coverup, the Catholic Church needs to develop a process for facilitating internal whistleblowing to local, diocesan, national, and international (i.e. the Holy See) officials. This follows the mantra that has been slowly embraced by the business world, that the best means for preventing external whistleblowing and the consequent harm to the organization is by encouraging employees to bring unethical, dangerous, or illegal practices to the forefront internally prior to them becoming scandalous.
I can personally attest that no such process currently exists, nor has the hierarchical Catholic Church been willing to embrace whistleblowing as a necessary means for ensuring the Church is living out its mission. In the opinion of many church workers, clergy and laity alike, my decision to make public negative information about Catholic priests and bishops violated a sacred omerta, or culture of silence, and demonstrated that I did not understand that my role as a Catholic and a canon lawyer was to protect the reputation of the Church rather than its people. Yet, my efforts to elevate my concerns even prior to going public were met with just as much stony, disinterested, silence. Contacting MPR, after all, was not my first attempt to draw attention to the issues that would leave the Archdiocese, in the words of its current Vicar General, 'humiliated'. I started with all of the obvious methods: I brought my concerns to the attention of my supervisors and co-workers, I noted those concerns in performance reviews and in reports to auditors, and I spoke to others with governance roles about my concerns. When those efforts were not successful, I brought my concerns to the attention of those outside the Archdiocese, but still within the institution of the Church. I made phone calls, forwarded documents, and sent long emails alerting other church workers and members of the hierarchy about what was taking place, and my concern that the Archdiocese was violating not only canon law, but the laws of the State of Minnesota as well. The few responses I received to these pleas for assistance were as disheartening as the silence that resulted from the others. No one ever encouraged me to contact law enforcement or child protection services. At best I was encouraged to seek spiritual direction.
As frustrating as this was, I still had faith in the Catholic Church, which is why my next approach was to try to bring these matters to the attention of various officials in Rome. In addition to the countless letters I transmitted pointing out how matters had been mishandled, being saddled with writing the quinquennial report meant that I could insert numerous coded references which, had anyone been interested, would have indicated that there were serious problems within the Archdiocesan administration pertaining to the resolution of allegations of sexual abuse of minors, financial (mis)management, and additional concerns. Finally, there was my letter of resignation (see image below), which was distributed far beyond the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. One would think that after having written such a memo, anyone concerned with the well-being of the Catholic Church would have asked me to participate in, at the very least, an exit interview. Instead, the only response I received was this letter from Archbishop Nienstedt (see image below)
In the absence of any effective way to report illegal and unethical practices, and with grave harm occurring as a result of those practices
, I eventually found myself without any option but to blow the whistle externally, with all of the predictable negative results to myself, the Archdiocese, and those local officials who had failed to heed my warnings. Certainly an organization like the Catholic Church would have a vested interest in establishing a specific chain of command, or ombudsman, for employees to voice concerns, as well as formal mechanisms for reporting violations. Yet, while some dioceses have processes in place for reporting certain issues (sexual abuse or financial misconduct, primarily), these tend to be directed towards violations taking place in parishes and which can be resolved by the local bishop and his staff. And, even those employees who take advantage of such reporting mechanisms may find themselves at risk. While dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, seek to score points with the public by developing whistle blowing protection policies
, unless those same policies indicate that the diocese or archdiocese in question agrees to waive and/or not raise the defenses arising out the First Amendment, many- if not all- church employees would not benefit from any whistleblowing protections, including those adopted under state law.
Even more concerning is the fact that I am still not aware of any reliable procedure or method by which a Chancery official such as myself could safely report wrongdoing committed by his or her superior to anyone capable of acting on that information. The institutional deafness to such information is so absolute that it has even been suggested to me recently that the details of the present crisis in Saint Paul and Minneapolis continue to remain largely under the radar of the Holy See.
This situation cannot continue. In order to prevent further harm to children, not to mention additional scandal to the faithful, the Catholic Church must develop a whistleblowing culture that is more than just words on paper, and which includes universal policy provisions, is endorsed by the Holy Father and other top officials, and which is regularly assessed to ensure that reports are fully investigated and resolved. The timely establishment of internal whistleblowing mechanisms should be one of the most important duties entrusted to the Holy Father's Child Protection Commission. At the same time, I hope you won't blame me for expecting that this warning, like all of my others, will be ignored.
Unusually for me, I have agreed to interviews with WCCO TV and radio this afternoon. This has forced me to spend more time ruminating on the provisions of the Doe 1 settlement, and what it means in terms of resolving the crisis in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. I want to state at the outset that I really would like to see this crisis come to an end. I have no interest in becoming entrenched in a position of binary opposition to the Archbishop or the Archdiocese. At the same time, I must admit that I felt much more hopeful about the settlement and its impact prior to
the press conference yesterday afternoon. I continue to believe that the provisions of the settlement will have a tremendous impact, but I see that impact as being limited to two key areas: support for victims and investigations of alleged criminal conduct. The rest of the provisions are, by and large, little more than a restatement of previous promises, and I don't think we should be patting the Archdiocese on the back for agreeing not to have priests in ministry who have abused minors.
In order for me to believe that we are truly entering 'a new era', I think that four things still need to occur. What follows is my attempt to outline these four things, as well as to explain my reasons for believing they are necessary. I hope to also have the opportunity to discuss these items with WCCO this afternoon.Item #1: Leadership Change in the Archdiocese
The first and most critical 'action item' if you will, is leadership change in the Archdiocese. Obviously, this has to begin with Archbishop Nienstedt. Whether he chooses to resign or some process is begun to determine his fitness for ministry is not for me to say. What I think is clear is that he lacks many of the characteristics to be any sort of a leader, much less a good leader. This is not just a comment on his handling of allegations of sexual abuse. Many besides me have raised issues about his style of management, his ability to relate to people, and his administration in general. Yet, in calling for a change in leadership, I do not mean to stop there. Bishop Piche should be granted medical retirement. Bishop Cozzens, if his episcopal ministry is to be salvaged, should be transferred to another Archdiocese where he can serve as an auxiliary under a bishop capable of mentoring him in authentic and effective pastoral leadership. The rest of the upper levels of Archdiocesan staff also have to go. I observed yesterday's press conference from the back of the room, and so my view was different than those of you who saw it unfold through the lens of a camera. From my vantage point what was obvious was that while the faces in front of the camera were by and large new, the faces of those beyond camera range were all too familiar. There will not be any true change in the Archdiocese until all the faces are new. If someone was in a directive position in the years leading up to or during 2013, and stood by while the Archdiocese was assuring the public that there were no accused priests in active ministry, that it was complying with the Charter, and that there had been only one credible accusation since 2005, he or she needs to go.
Perhaps that will happen as part of a reorganization plan arising from a Chapter 11 filing, but previous Archdiocesan reorgs have rarely led to the right departures. I think we will only see this change when there is a change at the very top. Item #2: More Clergy Must be Removed from Ministry
I will not be satisfied that the Archdiocese is doing all it can to protect children and vulnerable adults until additional men are removed from ministry. A quick perusal of my Doe 1 affidavit should my demonstrate grounds for concern. At the press conference yesterday Tim O'Mallley seemed to indicate further removals were coming, but I doubt that these will entirely conform to the list that I have in my head of those whose ministry is a threat to the well being of the faithful. Further removals will single that the Archdiocese is finally moving beyond a mentality of putting the interests of the priests above the interests of the people. Item #3: The Archdiocese Must Authorize Greene and Espel to Release the Full Report on their Investigation into the Conduct of Archbishop Nienstedt.
Frankly, I am not interested in the conclusions that may be disclosed from the Archdiocese. What needs to be released is the work done by the attorneys at Greene and Espel. I state this not from prurient interest- I think I have a fairly clear idea, based on conversations with others, about what is in their report- but rather because if the Catholic Church is going to get beyond the sexual abuse crisis, we need to ensure that our seminaries are adequately screening and forming men for service to the Church. Since the Commonweal Magazine report
, I have been alarmed by how many reports I have heard of inappropriate conduct by the Archbishop
towards seminarians under his care. If there has been a system in place for rewarding men for submitting or overlooking such behavior, the Church needs to address it rather than let it perpetuate. Consider this: the most recent version of the Program for Priestly Formation, the normative guide to seminary formation in the United States, was drafted under the Chairmanship of Archbishop Nienstedt.
This should be a grave cause for concern. Item #4: The Archdiocese Must Demonstrate that it is Providing for the Care and Support of the Victims of Father Wehmeyer
Nothing was said yesterday about the young men who were the victims of Curtis Wehmeyer. The Archdiocese needs to accept its responsibility for the harm that was done to them. The way to demonstrate this is to provide assurance that those boys are receiving what they need- right now, at this moment. The Archdiocese has tended towards 'scorched earth' tactics in litigation, which often rely on attempts to starve plaintiffs into submission. We need assurances that this is not currently taking place.
This settlement is a tremendous victory for those concerned with the safety and wellbeing of children and vulnerable adults, and I am grateful to Doe 1 and his attorneys for being so resolute and courageous in pursuing these ends.
I also want to express my gratitude to the many good priests of this Archdiocese. I fear that the burdens of this agreement will fall disproportionately on them, rather than on those whose leadership, or lack thereof, brought us to this end. For their sakes as well as for the good of all the Church, I hope that the news of this settlement and what led to it reaches those who have the power to intervene in the governance of this Archdiocese.
For someone who wishes the Catholic Church to be a beacon of integrity, credibility, and virtue, this settlement is a heartbreaking acknowledgment of how far the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis has strayed from its mission. It should never take action from the civil courts to compel a Catholic diocese to act in the public good, especially when doing so requires little more than that we follow Christ’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
During the ten years I served as a canon lawyer for Catholic dioceses including the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, I worked on many, many cases of clerical sexual misconduct. I dealt with priests and deacons (and those aspiring to be either) who had sexually abused men, women, children and, in the case of one particular priest, animals. I was always aware of the precarious position this placed me in vis-a-vis my personal safety and well-being, but the work needed to be done and over time I developed the thick skin that comes from frequently interacting with sex offenders. Significantly, throughout those ten years there was only one offending priest whose issues rose to such a level of ‘creepiness’ that I objected to working with him. After having had the experience of being the only woman present at a meeting with this priest (and being very well acquainted with the contents of his personnel file), I informed my Chancery colleagues rather bluntly that I did not feel comfortable being around this priest, and that I didn’t think it right that I or anyone else should be asked to. I thought that my feelings on this matter would receive at least a respectful hearing, as by this point not only was I accustomed to supervising felonious clergy upon their release, but I had the added ‘street cred’ that comes from visiting inmates on Death Row and learning to eat po’boys with inmates in shackles. As I pointed out to my colleagues, one can presume that my comfort level in such situations is higher than the average person, not to mention the average parish worker or daily communicant. Given my discomfort with having to interact with this particular priest, I asked, how can we ask it of anyone else? My concerns were disregarded then, as they so often were. But, since the Archdiocese was very obviously aware of my concerns in regard to this priest, once the investigation by Minnesota Public Radio began he was one of the first the Archbishop asked to take a ‘voluntary leave of absence’. In announcing the leave, the Archdiocese attributed the decision to ‘misconduct which occurred many years ago and did not involve members of any parish in which [the priest] has served’. The Archdiocese also stated that ‘this misconduct did not involve a violation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.’ The priest was only ordained in 1997, so I leave it to you to decide whether any misconduct in which he engaged could have been ‘many years ago’. I also wonder if it is correct to state that the misconduct didn’t involve a violation of the Charter or members of any parish to which he was assigned. As I recall the materials in his file, one of the complaints lodged against him was that he was staring at the breasts of teenage girls at Nativity of Our Lord in Saint Paul. I suppose it could be argued that the priest was only in residence, and not assigned to the parish at the time, and that his actions were a violation of the spirit, but not the letter of the law that animates the Charter/Essential Norms. If so, that nuance was lost both on the father of the girls, and on the pastor to whom he complained. From what I recall of the file, the pastor of the parish was as outraged as the father, to the extent that he wrote to the Archbishop and said that while he wished the priest well, he was not going to tolerate such conduct at his parish. Those who know him better than I will be able to confirm if that sounds like an action that would be taken by Father, now Bishop, Peter Christensen. It is also unclear to me if the Archdiocese’s statement on this priest is meant to encompass his use of prostitutes and phone sex hotlines. The Archdiocese claims that this ‘misconduct’ did not involve parishioners or violations of the Charter but really, when it comes to his soliciting sex, how can they know? It isn’t as though they made an attempt to locate all of the women whom this priest had paid for sex acts to inquire about their age and religious practices. On what could they be basing such a statement? Did they rely on the word of the priest that none of the women were known to him through a parish to which he was ‘assigned’, or did they just make a general assumption that Catholic women are unlikely to be forced into prostitution? If you consider that one of this priest’s parish assignments was at a location next to a Dorothy Day Center, perhaps you can understand my skepticism. I hope that you can also understand my concern. It is undisputed that this particular priest suffers from mental illness, compounded by several other issues which I cannot disclose but which constantly put him in jeopardy of violating his vow to maintain perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. His mental illness, which leads to the compulsive and inappropriate staring that I have already mention, surely should disqualify him from parish ministry, if not priestly ministry entirely, seeing that both require that a man have the ‘integral morals’, ‘proven virtues’, and ‘the other physical and psychic qualities in keeping with the order to be received’, which in this case is the most holy and sacred priesthood (canon 1029). Perhaps you disagree, and therefore will not find it surprising, and incredibly disheartening, to learn that this priest was returned to ministry by Archbishop Nienstedt in April of 2014. Or perhaps you are comforted by the fact that one of the ‘conditions for his return to ministry’, if you will, was that disclosure be made to the parish community. Is it somehow acceptable to assign such a priest as long as the parishioners at his parish are informed of his history of mental illness, ‘angry outbursts, inappropriate staring at women, and inappropriate sexual misconduct with non-parishioner adult females’?. The ‘disclosure’ made in this case, which I consider to be an extremely minimal accounting of the priest’s past misconduct and current issues, presents an interesting contrast to the standards of behavior currently imposed on lay employees. As a canon lawyer I am comfortable stating that soliciting a prostitute is contrary to the moral and religious teaching of the Catholic Church, and for a priest, who is required by law to observe perfect and perpetual sexual continence, to do so- repeatedly- is also a violation of canon law. I am also comfortable in saying that I am scandalized, and embarrassed for the parish and the Catholic Church, to see such a disclosure announcing the return of a priest to ministry. I am at a loss to understand how the Catholic Church can seek the resignation of a music director for conduct ‘inconsistent with the faith, morals, teachings and laws of the Catholic Church,’ while at the same time turning a blind eye to similar, or worse, violations of faith, morals, teachings, and laws by its clergy. However, I would not be surprised to learn that at least some parishioners fully supported this priest’s return to their parish. They have already endured a very tense and emotional merger, and no doubt fear that without quietly accepting this priest their ability to maintain a second worship site would be called into question. Clearly this is not an answer. Nor is it acceptable. Reading of the ‘reassignment’ of this particular priest called to mind a talk given about this time last year by Bishop Charles Scicluna, who until 2012 was the Promotor of Justice, or chief prosecutor, for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In addition to speaking of priests guilty of sexual abuse of minors, Scicluna spoke of priests who are ‘simply unsuited for ministry’, not necessarily because they commit crimes, or can’t maintain the obligations of the clerical state, or even because they are mentally ill. According to Scicluna, such a priest may simply be unable to deal effectively with people. Referring to such unassignable priests, Scicluna, stated, ‘There is no community to which I would send [an unassignable priest]. He wants to be a pastor, but we don’t hate our communities. We love every single community. I don’t want to send this guy to any community becausethere is no community I hate that much. He would be very happy, but I would not be doing my job…I would have to give an account to God for my being unfair to the people.’ I should note that the people of this particular parish have learned, over the past year that, by the Archdiocese’s own admission, they were assigned priests known to have abused children for thirty-two of the past sixty-four years. We don’t hate our communities, indeed. Scicluna is not alone is protesting against the assigning of unhealthy or unbalanced priests. In a recent address to the Congregation for Clergy, Pope Francis spoke to this issue, reminding bishops, ‘Today we have so many problems in so many dioceses, because of this error of some Bishops [in ordaining men who are not fit for ministry]’. When making assignments, Archbishop Nienstedt would not listen to me, but perhaps he will consider these words of Francis: ‘Please! We must think of the good of the People of God’.  Reese, Thomas. ‘Canon Lawyers Hear from Church Prosecutor of Sex Abuse Cases’, National Catholic Reporter, 25 October, 2013.
A little over a month ago, Archbishop John Nienstedt announced the hiring of Timothy O’Malley, former head of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, as Director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. I don’t think anyone has questioned his credentials, which includes a stint with the FBI, but there were those (myself included) who wondered if he would have the ability to bring about the changes that are required. It would appear that one of the first tasks that O’Malley has attempted to accomplish is the promulgation of new Codes of Conduct for Church Personnel (including clergy), as well as lay employees and volunteers. I was amused to see that the ‘new’ documents in many areas seem to incorporate verbatim passages of the residence, conflict of interest, and whistleblowing protection policies that I had drafted prior to my resignation in April of 2013 (and which certain Archdiocesan officials stated under oath had already been promulgated..), although the overall effect is significantly watered down. For instance, I am certain that when I drafted my version of the whistleblowing policy it included disciplinary action against employees or agents who retaliate against someone who has reported a concern in good faith. I was also dismayed by those areas in which the new Code of Conduct seems not to go far enough. One example is the passages on conduct for clergy and other pastoral counselors. I don’t see any explicit prohibition on sexual involvement with the individual receiving counseling or other persons close to the client (and frankly, this has been a problem for some of our clergy), which is important in light of the Archdiocese’s historical laxity towards ‘consensual’ relationships. I am also concerned that the section on conduct with minors stops short of prohibiting clergy from having minors in their private living quarters (no one has ever given me a reasonable explanation for why minors would need to be there), nor is any mention made of clergy being prohibited from visiting a minor’s home without other adults present and without the express welcome of the parent or guardian (I could tell you stories…). Yet, in perhaps an early indication of the lack of autonomy and authority given to O’Malley, even these watered-down versions appear to be controversial and uncertain of passage. In an October 1, 2014 email O’Malley basically acknowledges that he has been forced to apologize for attempting to promulgate the new standards for conduct without seeking the input of, amongst others, the clergy. Reading this email, I felt badly for him. I am sure that someone with his background would consider the provisions of this Code of Conduct to be so basic as to require little if any discussion (leaving aside the provision for modest dress, which I believe is not only inchoate but is likely to be enforced almost exclusively against women), especially given that the USCCB has recommended such provisions for nearly a decade. It also appears he has been backed into a corner. It is not like the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, given its present, um, situation, can afford to back away from any of these provisions. Obviously, it is never ideal to promulgate this type of policy without consultation. But, as I have mentioned before, the priests and others saw draft versions of most of these provisions more than a year ago, and were invited to comment at that time. And, while top-down leadership is rarely popular, clergy at the time of their ordination agree to accept the standards of conduct set for them by the Church and the diocesan bishop in particular. Frankly, when it comes to setting standards designed to eliminate sexual abuse, consultation may be important, but too much negotiation can be deadly. Most importantly, I read this email as an indication that O’Malley does not really have the support of leadership (meaning the Archbishop) in making the necessary changes, or at least not when doing so might upset what I know from experience is a vocal minority amongst the clergy. I read the request for comments as the Archbishop making it his priority to try and appease them rather than protect us. And that is, as they say, ‘a tale as old as time’. Perhaps this is only a minor setback for O’Malley, and by carefully picking his battles he will (eventually) be able to accomplish the desired results. Still, reading this email called to mind something that a fellow canonist said to me years ago when I first became involved in prosecuting cases of misconduct against clergy. When I expressed my incredulity at being forced to entertain a cleric’s protestations that he had no knowledge of the erotic images that appeared on his website (despite the fact that he was, in fact, the model in the pictures as well as the distributor), my friend replied with a comment that would probably resonate with O’Malley right now: ‘Well, Alice, it sounds as though you have stepped through the looking glass. Welcome to my world’.