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. 


 


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    Jennifer Haselberger is a canon lawyer who served as the Chancellor for Canonical Affairs in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis until April of 2013, when she resigned in protest of the Archdiocese's handling of sexual misconduct by clergy.

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