When I first started working as a canon lawyer for Catholic dioceses, a priest told me that for years bishops and religious superiors had sent letters of introduction (the precursor to Testimonials of Suitability) for offending priests that were typed using double spacing- an indication to the receiving bishop that he should 'read between the lines'. I was never able to verify if this was true, but the idea has always intrigued me. Indeed, the ability to understand what is not
contained in the documentation belonging to a particular priest is, at times, more important than identifying what is. This is an important fact to keep in mind as we anticipate the release of additional files of priests of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and perhaps in particular with the release of the file of Father Joseph Gallatin.
When and if the Gallatin file is released, we are unlikely to see any of the psychological evaluations of Father Gallatin, and we are also unlikely to see any firsthand reports of what occurred in 1998. The former is, perhaps, appropriate. Father Gallatin, who has not been convicted of any crime, has the same rights as anyone else, including the right to have his private medical information remain confidential. The latter is likely, once again, attributable to negligence on the part of the Archdiocese. I may be wrong about this but I honestly can't remember seeing a firsthand account of what had transpired in 1998 from the point of view of the victim, or even his name.
If released, what the file will most likely contain are descriptions of what occurred, written in the form of memos, that change both over time and depending on the person writing the report. We may also see some summaries of psychological evaluations and reports, but these again will have been compiled by various individuals and reflect the authors' interests and biases, rather than being an accurate summation of the conclusions of the person who conducted the evaluation. By now, I hope everyone can agree that such summaries, especially when written by Father Kevin McDonough, are basically worthless. The only value in reading them in this case, as I see it, is for amusement. The extent to which so many adults seem confused about basic human anatomy (shoulder? chest? abdomen?) should at least cause you to chuckle.
However, that is the only thing that we should find funny about this situation, as it is one of the more serious that faces the people of this Archdiocese, and it will continue to be one that requires careful attention for many years to come. For, despite knowledge that Father Gallatin is sexually attracted to teen boys as young as twelve, and despite knowledge that he has a history- dating back further than the incident reported in 1998- of acting on those sexual impulses by taking advantage of drunk or sleeping boys, he remains a priest in the Catholic Church, and Archbishop Nienstedt intends to provide him with a ministerial rol
Keeping this in mind, it might prove to be the case that releasing the very limited information that can be disclosed about Father Gallatin causes more harm than good. As I have already said, what can likely be released will be a very muted down account of his history and issues. This is problematic because, as the file will also probably indicate, Father Gallatin was a very clever and affable priest, liked by many. Indeed, I liked him myself, and enjoyed his sense of humor (especially when it came to liturgical practices) very much. This creates a situation where many might be tempted to disregard the very real risk that he poses for the Church.
It is unlikely that the release of any personnel file will alter the opinions of those who think they have formed an accurate impression of a priest who stands accused, or of the decision makers involved. James Porter had his defenders at almost every parish he served, and even while in prison, and the same can be said of almost every priest known to have sexually abused minors
. And, I just received an email from someone who says she 'takes offence' at my descriptions of Bishop Lee Piche, who, in her opinion, is 'a priest of the utmost integrity'. People are of course entitled to their opinions, but they should also be cognizant of the need to 'read between the lines' or beyond the public persona that is presented to them. Most importantly, decision makers in the Catholic Church need to realize how their own 'knowledge' of an accused priest can result in a bias against an accuser, and how it is possible that someone may be both an abuser of children or vulnerable adults (or a weak and ineffective leader) and an engaged and seemingly effective priest.
To illustrate this point I want to share with you two emails that I have received regarding Father Gallatin (I have not altered the spelling or grammar of either). The first is from a family member of his, who I will not identify further.
I am writing to you to express my deep saddness over what has transpired in my brother's case. Your actions last fall when you took information in a manner that betrayed your former employer and violtated the Health Isurance Portability and Accountabiliity Act have certainly had a reverberating effect.
I have always known Joe to be a wonderful person but his courage in the face of this great challenge is far greater than the courage you were hailed to have when you took information from an organization that you chose to no longer work for. Though he is angry with you and could, in turn, sue you for passing on his protected health information, he would never proceed with this action. He always spoke very highly of you and our family assumes that he is just an unfortunate victim of your deception. I hope that you are paying attention to the media reports and the statements from the Archbishop Nienstedt and see that Joe is becoming the scapegoat for the diocese.
I understand that you had the best of intentions in passing on information to Jeff Anderson. If you really reported incidents and there was no action taken then that is also a travesty. However, as a mother of 4 gorgeous children, I would never have dropped my kids off at a trailer unsupervised. Could you have called the mother and urged a warning? Could you have called the authorities yourself? Perhaps you did and just like the media is covering one side of Joe's story they are not covering the full side of your story. Fr. Wehmeyer was a sick and indecent man. However, statisics show us that sexual abuse happens and it happens to 4 children in every 100 across their lives. That mother should have protected her children--it shouldn't be up to you or me to help her understand her children are vulnerable.
But I digress. I felt that I had to reach out to you as part of my grieving process. Joe is doing well and has been such an inspiration to us all. Maybe this unfortunatle situation is God's way of moving Joe in a direction he never would have before. It's all part of this great mystery of life. I hope you would consider the gravity of your actions when working through other difficult cases and situaitons in the future
The author's facts are clearly wrong. I didn’t 'take' any information about Father Gallatin, much less any information protected by HIPAA, and I didn’t disclose anything to Jeff Anderson, the Archdiocese did, as a result of a court order, etc, but you see my point. It is extremely unlikely that the author's opinion of me or Father Gallatin will change as a result of any file release or other information becoming public.
The second email I did not receive directly. Instead,it was sent to me by one of the producers of WCCO's John Williams Show
after I spoke on the program about how for me it all came down to whether I would trust Father Gallatin around my preteen nephew. My answer was an unequivocal 'no'.
The email is as follows, although again I will not include the name of the sender.
I was in my car driving between accounts yesterday and listened to your interview with Jennifer Haselberger. When you have her on today, please applaud her for her courage and guts to stand up to the house of horror's that is the Minneapolis-St. Paul Archdiocese.
While my daughter was swimming, I listened to a rebroadcast of your show again. My kids were at the school where Joe Gallatin was placed as a Canonical Administrator and priest of St. Peter's Parish in Mendota, MN. He was the priest that she was referencing that she was concerned to bring her 11 year old nephew to see. When I got home, I read all 107 pages of her affidavit. On page 34, Fr. Gallatin was referenced. I almost vomited when I read that in 2008, there were red flags on his ability to serve yet, Nienstedt placed him in my church and then placed him in a school where all 3 of my children attended. NONE of the parents, parishioners or staff knew about his background. In her affidavit, she references his feelings towards boys in the parish school. That could have been my son and his friends.
I emailed the Archbishop and Fr. Charlie Lachowitzer who are now in charge of the Archdiocese to let them know of my disgust at being a Catholic in this archdiocese. I am a 5th generation Catholic in Minnesota, have 3 kids in Catholic schools and am actively looking for another faith to worship in. I will not attend church with my family until the current leadership is gone. I have had enough of the criminals protecting the pedophiles.
Keep up your great work on the criminals abusing our kids. I listen to you everyday and enjoy your show. You make sales day go by a little better!
Anyone who has worked at a diocesan Chancery knows that these kind of contradictory emails are just a fact of life. Every priest has those who love him, and usually a fair amount that don't. Chancery officials should quickly learn that such opinions must be disregarded when considering the need for disciplinary action.
This is exactly why it is so very important that the faithful of the Archdiocese can trust those in leadership to act in the best interests of the People of God. Even when personnel files are released or names are made public, there will always be those who refuse to believe what has been alleged and who will pressure for the priest to be returned to ministry, etc. A good bishop knows that his job is not to make everyone happy, but to keep everyone safe.
Sometimes that requires an ability to read between the lines, so that he can protect his flock from the wolves.