With the new year upon us, I thought I would take a moment to summarize some of the issues that have plagued the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis over the past year, and to provide some context as to what we can expect moving forward. Minnesota Public Radio did its own assessment, 'A year in the life of the Twin Cities Archdiocese
', as did the AP. The AP story, which highlighted events of national importance and described how they played out in Minnesota, placed the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis under the category of 'Clergy Sex Abuse
Yet the sexual abuse scandal is only one part (albeit an incredibly significant one) of the overall shaky state of affairs in the Archdiocese. Lest anyone forget, the Archdiocese's financial problems began long before the passage of the Minnesota Child Victims Act
, and the poor management, lack of effective oversight, and general dysfunction that weakened child protection efforts also fostered an embezzlement scheme that lasted more than a decade
and involved many more individuals than the one that was prosecuted (and much higher dollar amounts than the Archdiocese wants to admit and the statute of limitations will allow to be prosecuted). As I see it, the current crisis is only a visible symptom of a much larger, chronic problem that went largely undetected (or at least unreported) until September of 2013.
These are the issues about which I expect we will be hearing in 2015.
Several people with an interest in this matter have told me that they are anticipating a bankruptcy filing sometime in January. As we have been told repeatedly, if such an event would occur the reorganization would impact only the central archdiocesan corporation and not the daily operations of the parishes and affiliated charities. In truth, however, no one will really know what is impacted until the matter goes before a judge and until it is clear that creditors (possibly plaintiffs) will not seek compensation from or attempt to challenge the organizational structure of parishes and other separate but affiliated organizations.
The Archdiocese is currently suing its insurance carriers
and, as most of you are aware, it has been encouraging pastors to enter into an agreement for joint representation with an attorney of its choice in order to pursue payment on similar policies held by parishes and/or in order to try and reach a global settlement with claimants. It is unclear at this time how many parishes intend to join. I say 'unclear' not because I don't know, but because the Archdiocese doesn't know
. Just yesterday an email went out to pastors providing updated information about how to join, and advising them that the 'steering committee' for the effort will be chosen from among those who have 'joined the group' by December 31, 2014. My general knowledge of priests suggests that the effect of this message will be to ensure that very few join before January 1, as most- in my experience- are unlikely to join any effort that may result in them having to attend more
2). Investigation into Archbishop Nienstedt
At this time last year, the public was informed that Archbishop John Nienstedt was being investigated by law enforcement for possible inappropriate touching of a minor during a confirmation ceremon
y. What the public was not told was that he was also being investigated internally for additional allegations involving priests, former priests, and seminarians. That investigation apparently continues, with at least two outside attorneys being hired to, depending on who you ask, either redact the previously sworn statements or 'tie up loose ends'.
This phase of the investigation is under the direction of Bishop Piche, which has led me to two questions which will hopefully be answered in the coming year. First, when will the report of the Greene and Espel investigation be made public? Second, who is redacting/tying up the loose ends when it comes to questions involving Piche himself, or to others with whom he is so closely associated that it would be impossible to imagine him being objective?
I know that I was not alone in being questioned about Bishop Piche and the current Chancellor for Civil Affairs, Joe Kueppers, during earlier phases of the Nienstedt investigation. Both men have close associations with Father Curtis Wehmeyer that predate their work at the Chancery. Piche was Wehmeyer's pastor at Saint Joseph and received early reports of his inappropriate conduct with minors at the parish school. The Archbishop should have been informed of this knowledge at the time that I was counseling the Archbishop against appointing Wehmeyer pastor, as he should have been urged to act on the information that Piche received in 2012 and 2013 indicating Wehmeyer had drugs and a gun on parish/school property. Bishop Piche was also on the Board of Trustees at the University of St Thomas- appointed to serve as a conduit between the Board and the Archbishop- during the years in which the University was kept in the dark regarding the nature of the allegations against Father Michael Keating. Joe Kueppers, who knew Bishop Piche and Father Wehmeyer from their time at Saint Joseph, assisted Wehmeyer with his legal difficulties without reporting them to the Chancery. He also was involved in the attempts to negotiate a settlement with the Wehmeyer victims despite his connection to both Wehmeyer and the victims' mother, who was a classmate of Kueppers's wife.
These are important matters that seemingly require further review and investigation before the other matter can be concluded. Yet, as of now I am not aware of anyone looking further into it, and I certainly have not been contacted regarding any needed follow up. We should all watch carefully for developments in these areas in the coming months.
3). Who's the Boss?
That is a question you hear a lot these days, and the general response seems to be 'no one'. Although the Archbishop no longer feels it necessary that he step down while he is being investigated, it has been months since he has had the appearance of leading the Archdiocese. Persistent rumors suggest that Nienstedt will either resign or be removed shortly after a bankruptcy filing, and it has been suggested that former auxiliary and now-Bishop of Des Moines, Richard Pates
, will be appointed to serve as apostolic administrator until a successor can be found. Certain aspects of these rumors make them appear plausible, although I am not quite willing to accept them as more than rumors at this time.
As early as the fall of 2013 I was hearing that there would be a reluctance to remove the Archbishop or accept his resignation until the scandal had reached its peak, which a bankruptcy filing may indicate. And, in many ways Pates would be a good choice. As a former auxiliary and pastor, he is familiar with the Archdiocese and its people, and could be successful in calming the fears and winning the support of important donors and influential Catholics. He also never agreed with Father McDonough when it came to administration of the Archdiocese, which should appease at least some priests and outside observers.
Still, his appointment- if such would be made- would have two disadvantages. First, it is likely to be only temporary, which means that another upheaval would be on the horizon. Second, he is- even through no fault of his own-tainted by association. In my mind many of the problems that have and do exist in this Archdiocese have come about because of a tendency on the part of Archdiocesan leaders (dating back at least to Archbishop Roach, if not before) to be entirely self-referential. The only way to effectively move beyond this is to bring in new blood at all levels of the archdiocesan administration.
When I say self-referential, I mean that for a long period of time policies, doctrine, laws and opinions have been judged only in reference to the praxis of this community, and adopted only to the extent that they required accommodation rather than acceptance. This has been frustrating to Catholics- clergy and laity- from both sides of the spectrum. Conservative critics have bristled over the lack of adherence to liturgical and sacramental instruction such as the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, for instance, while others (myself included) were frustrated by the lack of attention paid to the requirements of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. While there will always be differences in interpretation, much of the frustration has stemmed from the feeling that no matter how solid the position, a particular norm's application in the Archdiocese was as uncertain as the winds.
Many (myself included) hoped that the appointment of Archbishop Nienstedt would bring the Archdiocese into a more authentic (and organized) fidelity to the Church and the Gospel. However, while the Archbishop was keen to apply the law in some areas (the sacrament of reconciliation comes to mind), he was just as willing to ignore it in other areas when it suited him. Cremation or saying a Mass before the proscribed hour would be certain to bring a letter of condemnation with a request for a promise of obedience in the future, but sexual indiscretions by clergy were met with a 'pastoral' approach. It might also surprise some to know that at least one member of the clergy was required to submit his homilies for approval during Nienstedt's tenure, but that priest was NOT Father Michael Tegeder. Instead, it was someone known for his orthodoxy. Despite obvious provocation, Archbishop Nienstedt's response to Father Tegeder was far milder than his approach to more conservative pastors who were behind in paying their parish assessments, for example.
The job of Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is not one that I would wish on even my worst enemies. And, I fear that the best choices will either decline the offer or be removed from consideration. Bishop Gerald Kicanas, for instance, was immensely successful in leading the Diocese of Tucson from bankruptcy, and his politics and outlook would meld well with the population of the Twin Cities. However, victims advocacy groups would never accept his appointment because of his involvement in the formation and decision to ordain Dan McCormack
, even if that experience were found to have made him better able to deal with potential abusive conduct going forward.
It is customary for dioceses approaching a transition to pray collectively for the appointment of a new leader. While I think it unlikely that the Chancery will be issuing such a prayer, I strongly encourage all to add it to their private petitions.
4). More Disclosures
The settlement reached by the Archdiocese in the Doe 1 case did not only end the lawsuit, it established a new procedure for disclosure of information on clergy. That means that in the coming months we will see more disclosures of information that the Archdiocese had previously sued to have sealed. My affidavit is an obvious example, and one that is probably troubling many people right now. For, of the names that remain redacted, many are still in ministry.
This is all the more surprising given that in the past few months several priests have been contacted about 'red flags' that were discovered during the so-called file review by Kinsale. Interestingly, none of the priests that I know of having been contacted appear in my affidavit, and at least one situation involved an allegation 'involving a minor' that was clearly bogus but was used by the Archdiocese as an act of retaliation towards the 'accused' priest.
It would be fair to describe the present state of the Archdiocese as a 'police state'. Almost all of the Chancery staff tasked with working with clergy are from law enforcement, which is not a healthy or sustainable way for the Church to operate. It is also unnecessary. The disciplinary problems facing the Archdiocese were not hidden or misunderstood. We were very much aware of them. Our ability to act appropriately was not hindered by a lack of knowledge or experience, it was hindered by a reluctance on the part of the leadership to apply the very clear standards that had been set. Appointing law enforcement agents to manage clergy personnel was an attempt by those leaders to retain power by assuring the public that they had effectively surrendered decision-making to others more worthy of trust. The incoming Archbishop, whoever he may be, will likely not be willing to continue with this state of affairs, nor should he. My only question is whether it will fall on him, or a temporary administrator, to roll back many of these policies and appointments.
5.) Ut omnes unum sint
Should this winter of our discontent be suddenly made summer, the newly crowned 'king' will face many challenges but will also be given a great gift. For the first time in my experience, there appears to be a growing sense of unity among the priests of the Archdiocese. The more cynical among us will certainly say that nothing unites like a common enemy, but I prefer the version I heard from a priest who had it from a friend in New Ulm. This priest was reflecting on what he saw as the primary achievement of Archbishop Nienstedt's time sheper “Nienstedt was able to unite the diocese of New Ulm: he was universally disliked and everyone was glad to see him go.”
Nathan Coley's A Place Beyond Belief in Pristina, Kosovo. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian Martin Godwin/Guardian
Tonight, for the first time in many years, I intend to participate in a Christmas Eve Mass celebrated in English,
with maybe a German carol or two thrown in for good measure. For the past six or so years I have prayed and sung in French, either of the Québécois or, more recently, the Vietnamese variety. Before that, it might have been Latin, or Flemish, or, one notable year, Albanian. Interestingly, I wasn't in Albania for the last, or at least I wasn't on Christmas Eve. I was in Kosovo- Pristina, the capital, to be exact- and the year was 2002. That wasn't a good year to be in Kosovo, although it wasn't as bad as it had been either. Technically, the Kosovo War had ended, and the territory was under the transitional authority of the United Nations and governed by a NATO peacekeeping operation known as KFOR. With all due respect to the many Minnesota National Guard soldiers who served in Kosovo (so many that one of the coffee shops in Pristina was named 'Cafe Minneapolis'), 'governed' might be a bit of a stretch. The Independent International Commission on Kosovo would eventually conclude that the KFOR peacekeepers were reluctant and/or did not have the capability to prevent violence against ethnic minorities (mainly Serbs and Roma) and that Kosovo was ethnically cleansed of these populations after the international presence was established just as it had been cleansed of Albanian Kosovars during the war.
Murder, arson, and sexual violence also doubled or tripled in the years following the NATO intervention, and it was estimated that Kosovo was supplying up to 40% of the heroin sold in Europe and parts of North America. Landmines and residual unexploded ordnance remained a problem, meaning that straying from the paved roads could be deadly and was strongly discouraged. Honestly, though, just about any form of travel in Kosovo was discouraged. The roads could be just as dangerous as the fields or ubiquitous piles of rubble given that Kosovar motorists generally refused to use headlights after dark in an effort to conserve battery power, which was a highly valued commodity because the municipal electric system had been damaged to the extent that power was cycled in two hour shifts- two hours on, two hours off.Not on Christmas Eve, however, which gave the city a festive feeling that may have struck some as odd given that more than 80% of the native population was thought to be Muslim. That didn't keep anyone from celebrating Christ's birth though. As I made my way to the Catholic Church for Midnight Mass (in a dress and wearing steel toed boots, the only time I can ever remember that happening) I simply followed the crowds. Catholic and Muslim Albanians alike were going to celebrate Christmas that December 24th and 25th, a nationalistic act that was intended as a raised middle finger to the few Serbs (Orthodox Christians who followed the Julian calendar) that remained in the disputed territory.
This was long before the construction of the new Cathedral dedicated to Mother Theresa (an ethnic Albanian), and rather than a diocese Kosovo was structured as an Apostolic Administration. In other words, I was in true mission territory, although one where the emphasis was placed more on survival than conversion. And survival was clearly on everyone's minds as they entered the church. With so many weapons in the hands of civilians, and revenge killings and ethnic violence a daily occurrence, nothing was being left to chance. KFOR forces lined the streets to the Church, which was itself surrounded by tanks, soldiers, and other military vehicles.
The crowd at Mass included many high and middle ranking KFOR officers in uniform, along with UN staff members, Muslim and Catholic dignitaries, a television crew, and, arriving late probably for security reasons, members of the Kosovo Assembly and of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army), at least one of whom (according to my neighbor in the pew) was named in a sealed indictment in the Hague for war crimes. The scene was prevented from being surreal only by the familiar rituals of the Mass and of the nun sitting in the row ahead of us, who periodically turned to tell one of the teenagers around me to get rid of their chewing gum (the latter, even more than the former, proof that we really do have a universal church).
Unlike most of the others in the church that night, I wasn't actively involved in the ongoing dispute over Kosovo's independence and was, in fact, just passing through. Early the next morning I was heading back to Macedonia, where I planned to catch the very long, slow train to Slovenia via Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. Looking at my old passport just now, the only record of this journey I could find is the stamp marking my entrance to Slovenia on 26-12-2002. Kosovo was disputed territory, Serbia still under sanctions, and Bosnia (and Međugorje) largely closed to tourists, so rather than permanent records of travel those in transit were given temporary 'travel permits' that were confiscated on departure (if not before). Besides this stamp and a few photos the only remaining evidence of my time in Kosovo is probably the form I completed earlier that afternoon at the US Mission Office (no consulate or embassy, of course), granting the American government permission to negotiate for my release in the event of my kidnapping or capture and specifying the number of days that the negotiations could continue as well as the dollar amount to be offered as ransom (this was 2002, and such things were still allowed).
That form, and my responses to those questions, would stay in my mind as I continued my travels, as less than a month later (January of 2003) I would be in the now infamous cities of Aleppo and Homs, Syria. I will think of the people that I met there, as well as those I left behind in Pristina, as the petitions are read at Mass tonight, and will hope and pray that they too will find peace this Christmas season.
In case you missed it, early this week a jury in Indiana awarded a former language arts teacher at Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic School nearly $2 million in damages after finding that the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend discriminated against her
by firing her after her third round of IVF treatments.
The issue is whether the school, and the diocese, could lawfully terminate 'a minister' of its religion when such a termination would otherwise be prohibited by anti-discrimination laws that protect employees from firing on the basis of gender or pregnancy. Both the Catholic school/diocese and the teacher agreed that she was terminated because of her decision to undergo in vitro fertilization.
The teacher's 'victory' in this case might be short-lived. Following the ruling, it was stated that the diocese would appeal the verdict to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
I have already written about the unanimous Supreme Court decision in Hosanna-Tabor, and the Catholic Church's interest in seeing the so-called ministerial exception upheld. This is a factor not only in cases involving IVF and other reproductive issues (such as premarital pregnancies) but also in cases where a church employee is terminated as a result of a same-sex marriage. I expect that the diocese, with the support of the USCCB, is in this for the long haul, and will dedicate a significant amount of time and resources to ensuring that the ruling is overturned.
Many media outlets, including the Associated Press, noted in their coverage that the teacher had informed the school principal of her IVF treatments more than a year before her termination
. The suggestion is that the matter only became an issue when the pastor of the parish was informed. I found this tidbit interesting, but not surprising. Many Catholics, in my experience, are unaware or do not acknowledge the Catholic Church's teaching regarding IVF.
At the same time, many priests and bishops seem uncomfortable or do not know how to talk to people about this topic, and in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis that critique extends all the way to the top. I recall being at dinner at Pazzaluna one evening with Father Laird, John Bierbaum (former CFO) and his wife Nancy, Andy Eisenzimmer (former Chancellor for Civil Affairs) and his wife Joan. In some way the topic of IVF came up, and I stated the Church's position. Nancy seemed surprised to hear it, and turned to Father Laird, who was sitting next to her, and asked Father Laird for clarification. Laird, who trained as a moral theologian, responded that the Church did not consider IVF to be gravely immoral, and promptly turned the conversation to a different topic. Some might argue that a dinner table isn't the place for such conversations, but we were all adults capable of having an intellectual conversation, and the topic was less sensitive than in other instances because no one at the table was dealing with infertility or was likely to seek out IVF.
Father Laird's 'interpretation' of Church teaching was interesting coming from the Vicar General of the Archbishop who wrote his doctoral thesis on the topic, ("Human Life in a Test-tube; the Moral Dimension of In Vitro Fertilization
and Embryo transfer
, St. Alphonsus, 1977), but I took it as just another confirmation that Laird and Nienstedt couldn't agree on which one of them was the Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
Still, the man with the mitre didn't do that much better, in my opinion. One of the saddest things that I remember seeing during my time working in Saint Paul (and by now you know there were many, many sad things) was a letter the Archbishop received in the last month of my employment. This letter was one of a stack of such letters the Archbishop received from a class of teenagers about to be confirmed, but the one I found so heartbreaking was written by a young girl seeking the Archbishop's blessing to be confirmed because she was one of a set of triplets conceived through IVF. Apparently she hadn't been spared the full-on version of Church teaching, and she wrote her Archbishop questioning her worthiness to receive the sacraments given the fact that the Church condemned her very creation.
Reading the letter, I wanted to call her and assure her that she was a welcome and valued member of the Body of Christ, and I am sure many of you reading this feel the same way. But I found the letter when I was doing my weekly 'review' and sorting of the Archbishop's correspondence, so instead I remember my hands shaking as I turned to the next page in the stack, dreading seeing the Archbishop's response. Some bishops I know would have called the girl to reassure her, or met with her personally to alleviate her fears. I was just hoping that the Archbishop's written response wouldn't be too stern of a rebuke, so that someone, someday, might be able to bring her back to the faith. I was both relieved and disheartened to find that Archbishop Nienstedt didn't respond to her at all. Instead, he took a copy of her letter, along with that of a boy who wrote to say that he questioned being confirmed because he thought the Church's teaching of gay marriage was wrong, and sent them back to the pastor and told him that he had reservations about the confirming the kids in question and that the pastor should work it out.
The pastor in question is one of the good guys, and in this matter he and his flock benefited from the Archbishop's exceedingly poor memory. The confirmation ceremony was scheduled for just days after the Archbishop received the stack of letters, but Archbishop Nienstedt didn't think of this when responding, so, as was typical of him, he wrote rather than picking up the phone or talking to someone directly. If the pastor opened the mail before the confirmation ceremony I don't think he let on, because the kids were confirmed without anyone being the wiser, and the pastor was able to talk to them in a non-threatening manner after the fact.
Yesterday, the Sacramento Bee reported that California's Senate President, Pro Tem Kevin de León, had named Sister Michelle Gorman, FBI (a Sister of Mercy, but not born in the US, in case people were confused. FBI is a reference to the fact, as I was taught, she would celebrate the Vigil of the Vigil of the Great Feast), as the new chaplain for the state Senate. Other media outlets picked up the announcement, which was heralded as likely being the first of its kind.
Not by a long shot.A quick perusal of the list maintained by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library shows that particular 'stained glass ceiling' was broken decades ago, by Sister Michele McGurran
. Sister McGurran served two terms as chaplain to the Minnesota Senate, from 1981-1984.
Her initial appointment predated the promulgation of the current Code of Canon Law, which reserves the title of 'chaplain', and consequently appointments to such positions, to priests or bishops
. Although this remains a sore point with many lay 'chaplains' working in hospitals and prisons and the like, in those cases there is some logic to it- the sick, dying, and imprisoned need access to the sacraments, and only one capable of the 'full care of souls' can fulfill that requirement. The position of Senate chaplain does not carry the same sacramental responsibilities.
Sister McGurran is, I believe, an OSB (Benedictine) attached to Mount Saint Benedict in Crookston. The Mount used to maintain a house on Summit Avenue where sisters were sent for formation and continuing education.
Sister McGurran was eventually replaced by a Lutheran pastor (the chaplaincy shifts between denominations) and since that time only priests have been appointed, including Father Kevin McDonough (2007-2010) who served during a key point in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis's efforts to prevent the opening of a civil window for the filing of lawsuits related to clergy sexual abuse. The Minnesota House of Representatives has been even less fortunate in its appointments
. 'Charter' priest Reverend Clarence Vavra
served as chaplain to that body for a brief period in the 1960s.
If you are looking for a more deserving Catholic institution to donate to this Christmas season, or a way to honor Sister McGurran's ground breaking ministry, I strongly urge you to consider donating to Mount Saint Benedict Monastery
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article4813806.html#storylink=cpy
Tim Healy and the Catholic Services Appeal Foundation made another effort this week to convince stakeholders (meaning priests and donors) that the foundation is a separate entity deserving of their (and our) support. I have already written about why I won't be contributing to the CSA this year
, and I have also provided some reasons for why I don't think the word 'separate' (meaning to remove or severe from) applies to the foundation in the way that the Archdiocese wants us to believe it does. I wasn't planning to comment on the latest email sent to clergy, but the claim that they have 'worked tirelessly' seems to beg a response, as does the article that appeared yesterday in The Catholic Spirit
This is the email to which I am referring:
I find it interesting that both The Catholic Spirit
article and the email to priests claim that the 2014 campaign exceeded its fundraising goal in pledges
. Pledges are different than actual money contributed, and I think we would all be far more interested to see the latter amount rather than the former- especially given that both the article and the email refer to the Foundation being unable to meet campaign expenses.
I also chuckle when I read about the 'tireless' efforts to create a separate foundation. Tim Healy, who, as I have already mentioned, is the brother-in-law of Bishop Cozzens, offers the following in support of his claim: the Foundation has a separate bank account, an 'independent board' (chaired by the brother-in-law of the bishop), separate employees, and its own database (where did they get my address then? I didn't give it to them.). What he does not mention is that this 'independent' foundation is operated out of the Hayden Center
(the pastoral building of the Archdiocesan Central Corporation
). In other words, the tireless work did not include moving from the old offices, or getting new phone numbers, etc, but instead they continued to use the same ones as they did before
they were a 'separate' foundation. Some of you may remember that at one time the Catholic Community Foundation
rented space in the Hayden Center, but they moved years ago when it was determined that remaining on Archdiocesan property called into question the independence of the CCF.
I also laughed when I saw that the Foundation was using its two full time employees as proof of its separation. These employees might be paid by the Foundation now, but they are hardly new and independent. Jennifer Beaudry (nee
Dawson), the Executive Director, has worked for the CSA/Archdiocesan Development Office for as long as I can remember. Her mother, as many of you will know, is Bobbi Dawson, the longtime Archdiocesan staff member who ran Archbishop Flynn's office as well as almost all of the entertaining that takes place at the Archbishop's Residence.
There are almost four million people in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, and thousands of empty offices for sale or lease. Surely a tireless effort would have surfaced more plausibly independent people to lead and administer the Foundation, and better space from which to operate. Assuming, that is, that the goal was for the Catholic Services Appeal Foundation to be independent.
Congratulations to MPR for winning an 2015 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for its investigative reporting on the child sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
When I contacted the radio station in the early summer of 2013 I did so because I believed MPR would cover the story in an intelligent, sensitive, and responsible way. By and large, I was not disappointed.
To see a summer's worth of interviews and additional reporting condensed into three and a half minutes, follow this link
I am hearing rumors that another
investigation is underway in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, with people being contacted for questioning by William McNab of Winthrop & Weinstine
. [I learned this morning that a local journalist spoke with McNab yesterday, and that he declined to comment and referred all questions to the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese has declined to comment, citing the need to protect the privacy of the priest in question].
However, in this case it does not appear as though the topic is the conduct or misconduct of Archbishop Nienstedt. Rather, what I am hearing is that the questions asked relate to Father Kevin McDonough
McDonough has, of course, been under fire before. The docsociety
(founded in the aftermath of the 2002 murder of Dan O'Connell and James Ellison by Reverend Ryan Erickson)
, began calling for his resignation from Archdiocesan duties as early as 2006 (see the organization's 'Founding Document').
And, those who have been ordained in recent years or who have taken prominent positions within the Chancery will recall that the publication of those events in The Catholic Spirit
would almost always result in the receipt of an anonymous letter, purportedly from members of an SA group (a twelve step program for recovery from sexual addiction)
, alleging misconduct by Father McDonough and several other priests and bishops. These letters arrived with such predictability that I could guess what had occurred even before responding to the frantic emails and calls from the stunned recipients, who were, as would be expected, horrified by what the letters contained. I think at one point the Chancellor for Civil Affairs, Andy Eisenzimmer, made some sort of effort to have the letters traced, but other than that I don't recall any action being taken about them or any investigation taking place as to what was alleged.
This calls to mind a question I was asked by a reporter after my affidavit was released in July of 2014
. The reporter was referring to the part of my affidavit where I discuss phone calls the Chancery was receiving from a 'pimp' who was calling to complain because one of the Archdiocesan priests had failed to pay one of his 'girls' for her services (pg. 52-53). The reporter wanted to know my reaction, and kept asking if I didn't think that getting such a call 'was strange'. My guarded response was to say, basically, that sure it 'was strange', but no stranger than most of the other things that were happening at that Chancery.
The anonymous letters are a case in point.
This week, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis continued its efforts to get itself out of financial hot water by sending a message to all pastors with a suggested text for parish bulletins which offers the Archdiocese's explanation of how contributions made to parishes are spent. The recommended text (for parishes without schools) is this:
As I explained in a previous post
, I disagree with the Archdiocese's claim that 'less than half a cent of every dollar you give...goes to the Archdiocese to pay expenses related to clergy sexual abuse and other clergy misconduct'. I think that the costs of misconduct are spread fairly broadly throughout the various categories of the pie chart (General & Administrative, you will note, includes the Archbishop's Office...).
But, I am also concerned about the ways in which the Archdiocese's legal troubles (and history of bad decision making) are beginning to impact the 91% of contributions that remain with the parishes. I noticed that the description of 'parish initiatives' in the suggested bulletin text does not include paying the 'initial retainer' or subsequent (and as yet undetermined) legal fees that were discussed at this week's meeting with Mary Jo Jensen-Carter, the attorney who would like to represent all the parishes in the 'Archdiocese's process of obtaining a global settlement of the clergy abuse claims'.
While I was initially hopeful that this would be a positive step forward for parishes, my opinion has since changed. Rather than an initiative of the parishes, it is becoming more and more clear that this effort is really coming from the Chancery. Like the appointment of Tim Healy as President of the Catholic Services Appeal Foundation, the choice of Jensen-Carter, a former paralegal for the law firm of the current Chancellor for Civil Affairs (Joe Kueppers), removes any plausible claim that this is an independent initiative.
More importantly, however, I question the liability of parishes for abuse claims arising from the assignment of clergy by the Archdiocese. While the Archdiocese has always attempted to argue that its parishes have no legal relationship with the Central Corporation and are not subject to the direction or control of the Archdiocese, during my years at the Chancery I became convinced that this was untrue. It is the Archbishop, and only the Archbishop, who is responsible for assigning clergy to parishes under direct Archdiocesan control, and he (and his predecessors) confirm the appointments of religious priests for those parishes that have been entrusted to religious institutions. Why then should the parishes have to pay legal fees for costs relating to the negligent assignment of clergy by the Archbishop, especially given that the same parishes have already suffered from having abusive clergy sent to them and given access to their children and vulnerable adults?
If it were me, I would subtract the cost of the retainer and any additional legal fees from the amount the parish pays towards the annual assessment. I also would not be too quick to assume that participating in the negotiations is in the best interest of every parish. The situation of, say, Saint Ambrose of Woodbury is very different than the situation of Saint John the Baptist of New Brighton. Each parish should consider its position carefully when determining whether or not to join, and may want to consider joining with parishes in similar circumstances in a truly independent effort to secure a release or settlement (in other words, find your own attorney). In this way, those parishes may be able to offer a broader array of the types of non-monetary compensation that are often so important to the victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Just a thought.
If you are interested, here are the materials provided at this week's meeting with Jensen-Carter:
Careful observers, as well as those who receive emails from the Communications Department of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, have probably noticed that there appears to be a fierce battle being fought between the media and the Archdiocese regarding the terminology employed to describe just about every aspect of the investigation into Archbishop Nienstedt. Was Peter Wold hired/retained/employed by Bishop Piche, the Archdiocese, or the Archbishop himself? How many people have brought/made/offered the accusations/allegations/affidavits? Are we talking about sexual misconduct (the term used by the media), or misbehavior (the term used by Bishop Piche), and is there a difference?
I was somewhat bemused to see that several media outlets, including the AP, have reported that I said 'about 10 men have accused him of sexual misconduct
'. If you review what was reported in Commonweal Magazine
when it broke the story, you will see that I actually did no such thing. Instead, I spoke of allegations of 'sexual impropriety' and 'inappropriate sexual conduct'.
I suppose I could have asked media outlets to correct their statement, but honestly I don't want to engage in a war of what is, at best, semantics. Misconduct (the Archdiocese's preferred term when referring to bad behavior by all clergy except
the Archbishop), is defined as 'wrong behavior' or 'unlawful conduct by an official in regard to his or her office'
. Misbehavior, on the other hand, is not associated with a particular role or position, but instead refers to any 'improper, inappropriate, or bad behavior
'. Given that we are speaking of the behavior of an Archbishop, I am not sure how important the distinction really is, although the abuse of power and office certainly elevates the canonical implications of what is alleged.
I chose to use the word 'impropriety' because I wanted to emphasize what was to me the most important aspect of the investigation- the possibility that Archbishop Nienstedt's personal history of inappropriate sexual conduct influenced his decisions when dealing with errant clergy such as Father Curtis Wehmeyer, and caused him to discount (repeatedly) warnings about the potential danger of assigning Wehmeyer and others.
Prior to his arrest for sexually abusing minors, the Archdiocese had received numerous reports of inappropriate and reckless sexual behavior on the part of Father Wehmeyer, including that he was 'cruising' and had propositioned at least one other priest of the Archdiocese. I brought these matters to the attention of the Archbishop as early as 2009, but the Archbishop overrode my concerns and chose to appoint Wehmeyer pastor of two parishes anyhow. This was always inexplicable to me, until I heard that one of the allegations/affidavits/reports that has been made as part of this investigation is that the Archbishop has also been known to go 'cruising' (and I am not referring to the type of cruising one does on a ship in the Caribbean) and, on one occasion, purchased 'poppers' (and not the exploding candy preferred by elementary school students) and followed another gentleman to his car for, well, the type of activity that men purchase 'poppers' for
, only to discover when the interior lights of the car went on that the other individual had been a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Detroit. What was reported to me was that when the Archbishop recognized the individual, he made a statement to the extent that he 'couldn't do this' and left the car. Again, this is only one of the reports that I have heard about, which leaves approximately a dozen more accusations of various types and from other individuals at other times.
Misconduct? Misbehavior? According to what I heard, on at least this occasion the sexual act was not completed. Still, this is gravely problematic behavior for a man vowed to celibacy and under an obligation to remain chaste. More importantly, from my perspective at least, it provides some context for Nienstedt's handling of the situation involving Father Michael Krenik, who would become his secretary post-arrest
, and his attempts to form what the Archbishop has described as a 'pastoral' relationship with Father Wehmeyer, despite the fact that I think the vast majority of archdiocesan priests (or at least those who are not 'his type') would argue that he never attempted to form any type of relationship with them.
For me, the most important question for whoever is investigating this matter has always been whether the Archbishop's ability to lead the Archdiocese was/is compromised by his personal behavior. I think the circumstances surrounding Father Wehmeyer's ministry and arrest, and the Archdiocese's response to both, indicates it is. Hence I am not going to get too wrapped up in discussions of 'misconduct' versus 'misbehavior'. In my opinion, what we are talking about is dereliction of duty, and the investigation into that, at least in my opinion, is already complete.
I apologize to anyone who has been checking my blog today expecting more information about the investigation into the (mis)conduct of Archbishop Nienstedt. Since the story has been picked up by other news organizations (I recommend the reporting done by Esme Murphy at WCCO TV
and Grant Gallicho at Commonweal Magazine
), and since so much about what is taking place remains unclear and therefore incomprehensible, I decided to leave the topic to the journalists. Unlike me, they are able to at least pose questions to the Archdiocese, although it seems as though they are not getting much by way of answers.
However, I do what to provide a bit of information by way of context. First, I want to be clear that I do not, and have never, thought that this investigation (especially that conducted by Greene and Espel) was ordered by the Holy See. Rather, my understanding has always been that it originated with a group of well-meaning and influential people within the Archdiocese who, out of frustration with the growing calamity of leadership coupled with the Archbishop's refusal to fall on his sword, saw such an investigation as a tool that could be used to pressure Nienstedt to resign. I know for a fact that certain individuals with more leverage than Father Laird had been attempting to convince the Archbishop to resign since approximately September of 2013, although I am not certain if the two groups are the same.
Where problems arose, in my opinion, was that Greene and Espel was determined to conduct a credible investigation, whatever the result, whereas those behind the investigation would (I believe) have preferred a little less success. In other words, I think the purpose of the investigation was to get just enough information to entice the Archbishop to depart, without stirring up any additional trouble in the process. I think those behind the investigation were probably shocked and disturbed at the extent of what was uncovered, and equally troubled by the Archbishop's continued refusal to resign. They may not have gone looking for a mess, but they certainly found one.
I am not sure at what point Bishop Piche and Bishop Cozzens informed the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington of what was taking place. I have reason to believe that they traveled to see him in the spring, months after the investigation by Greene and Espel had begun, with the preliminary results. Shortly thereafter I believe the Archdiocese began to try and distance itself from the investigation, and to set up obstacles to Greene and Espel completing its work. In conversations with others involved in the investigation I began to hear grumblings against the work that was being done, including suggestions that the attorneys were being a little too diligent in their investigation. I took this as an indication, which I was later able to confirm, that Greene and Espel had uncovered a significant amount of information indicating that the Archbishop had committed acts of 'misconduct' (I believe this is the term that the Archdiocese prefers), including a number of individuals who made sworn statements attesting to the conduct they experienced. In an email to clergy today, Anne Steffens, Interim Director of Communications for the Archdiocese, suggested that
"10 allegations” is 'an incorrect reference to perhaps the number of affidavits at the time', which suggests the Archdiocese may be trying to reclassify some of what was alleged.
When it was announced that Bishop Piche would be continuing the investigation, I thought it likely that this would be another attempt to discredit the work done by the attorneys at Greene and Espel, and I see the current activities in the same light. However, it is difficult for me to believe that the Holy See is behind this, at least in terms of selecting the tools and the methods used. At the same time, it is possible that what is taking place in Saint Paul and Minneapolis is attributable to 'the Francis Effect'. There are certainly those in Rome who have been complaining of administrative chaos and general disorder in the various dicasteries. It is very possible that the confusion and the tension surrounding the investigation of Archbishop Nienstedt is the result of a lack of clear direction that can be attributed to the process of curial reform undertaken by Pope Francis.
If I am wrong, I invite the Archdiocese to correct me by making public a redacted version of the complete Greene and Espel report, and any other information that has arisen from the investigation. Until this happens, I am not inclined to believe their protestations that 'there are several factual errors in the stories'.