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’.




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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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