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)
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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.



 


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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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