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, '
', as did the AP.
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
, and the poor management, lack of effective oversight, and general dysfunction that weakened child protection efforts also fostered
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.”