When the file of Father William Stolzman was released on January 14, 2015, it generated very little attention. That is not necessarily surprising, especially considering that it was released along with five other files, the documents didn't appear to contain any 'smoking guns', and the alleged abuse is said to have occurred many years earlier. Accordingly, there was no press conference, no victims' photos, and no emotional statements for TV and other news outlets to record. The media had plenty of reason not to notice.

But for those who are following the saga here in Saint Paul (which I understand the current Vicar General likes to refer to as my 'crusade'), the Stolzman file is a veritable gold mine. In it, you can find hints of everything that led us to where we are today: the palpable decline of a once vibrant Archdiocese, the erosion of policies and protocols regarding just about every significant aspect of ecclesiastical life, and the institutional adoption of what I came to think of as the cardinal rule: 'Don't go looking under rocks'. 

For those willing to wade through the documents, there are other titillating finds. There are cameos of important personages (including the newly-installed Archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich), hard fought battles over liturgical practices (Dixie cups for the Precious Blood?), and an apparently frank explanation of how one homosexual priest attempted to sublimate his desires in order to conform to divine law and to maintain celibate chastity. And then there is page upon page of seeming minutiae. 

So, what is so important about the Stolzman file?

Well, for starters, it provides some of the most detailed information available to outside observers as to how the Archdiocese operates and has (mis)managed its Pension Plan for Priests. For, while in the process of incardination, Father Stolzman, who is a stickler for detail on financial matters, engaged in protracted and often one-sided conversations about how he could ensure that his pension was appropriately funded so that he could retire with full benefits at age 70. The file shows that time and time again Father Stolzman pressured diocesan officials to determine the extent of the contribution for prior service required from the Jesuit order, and that for more than two years diocesan officials generally ignored his efforts. The quarterly statements to his parish, which are included in the file for this time period, also demonstrate how parishes were billed and remitted payments to the priest pension plan and insurance plans through a single payment to the Archdiocese.

Even more interesting in terms of the Archdiocesan management of the pension plan is the memo from Mary Lynn Vasquez dated December 4, 1992, where she poses the question of whether diocesan officials intend to follow the terms of the plan document when establishing pension benefits for Father Stolzman (Stolzman file, p. 90). In my experience (and apparently hers), this was always an open question. The memos between Mary Lynn and Father Austin Ward show her efforts to try and keep the Archdiocese operating within the terms of the plan documents, often with little success. The memos also draw attention to the problem of pension payments for international priests, which are held by the Archdiocese outside of the usual pension accounts. We have not heard anything about the status of those funds in light of the bankruptcy filing, but as a matter of justice we should pay careful attention to how those funds are safeguarded, especially given that, as the Stolzman file notes, there is no real pension plan for these men in their home countries. 

There is nothing in these communications that reflects poorly on Father Stolzman. If anything, he should be commended for his heroic attempts at stewardship and financial planning, especially in the face of the apparent indifference of the Archdiocese. Moreover, you can favorably contrast his attempts to ensure that his retirement is fully funded with the agreements made with notorious offenders like John Bussmann, who was granted 23 years of (unfunded) service in the priests' pension plan prior to his arrest and incarceration in 2003, even though he actually served as a priest for only a fraction of that time. 

The extensive process undertaken in order to transfer Father Stolzman from the Jesuit order to the diocesan priesthood of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis also shines a favorable light on previous processes. The ordered, input-driven analysis of the priest's strengths and weaknesses, and the way he would 'fit' in the Archdiocese, was sorely lacking in the incardination process used beginning in 2007, when the emphasis was placed on making final decisions prior to the transfer of power from Archbishop Flynn to Archbishop Nienstedt, and even more so from 2010 on, when the process was put under the control of Bishop Piche and the decisions that were taken simply defied reason (see my Affidavit, pp. 86-87). A significant number of priests that entered the presbyterate during this latter time period did so without any transfer of pension benefits, meaning that even as it was sliding towards bankruptcy the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis continued to recklessly commit itself to providing for the retirement of additional priests. (Careful readers will also note that a source of tension in the incardination process was the participation of Eugene Burke, who is also mentioned in my affidavit.)

For me, however, what is most significant about this file is how the Archdiocese responded (or failed to respond) to the accusation that Father Stolzman had sexually abused a minor during his time on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Before getting into a discussion of that, I would like everyone to click on this link to the Vatican website, and quickly review the procedural norms established in 2001 for cases involving sexual abuse of a minor. In particular, I would like you to pay attention to this section:

This procedure  was/is restated in the Essential Norms that accompany the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, as well as in the 2010 revisions of the Vatican norms, Article 16:
It should be abundantly clear to anyone reviewing Father Stolzman's file that at no time has the accusation against the priest been reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). It should also be clear based on the file and the Archdiocese's statement of last Friday that no preliminary investigation was undertaken (there are no decrees, no documents, etc). 

So, why was this?

It was not because the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis was not aware of this requirement. The files contains multiple copies of emails between Father McDonough, Andy Eisenzimmer, and myself, in which I reference the document SST (Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela) to which I referred you before, and which had been in effect for seven years by that time. 

Now, we all known that Father McDonough was not going to do anything just because I said he should, but I was not alone in pointing out the need to complete the required procedures. Archbishop Cupich, who served as Chair of the Bishops' Committee on the Protection for Children and Young People, also reminded McDonough of the need to proceed 'in accord with established norms', as did the Jesuits, whose files were flagged as being incomplete without documentation of a canonical investigation and its conclusion.

It also can't be said that the formal investigation and report to the Congregation were not required. The norms require such a report whenever an ordinary [bishop, vicar general, etc] receives a report of a more grave delict [sexual abuse committed by a cleric against a minor], which has at least the semblance of truth. According to the documents in the file, in 2008 the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis was informed by the Bishop of Rapid City that an inmate of a local prison was alleging that he had been sexually abused (fondled) by Father Stolzman when the man was between 9 and 13 years old (1971-1975) and Father Stolzman was assigned to the Rosebud Reservation. The priest-chaplain of the prison, along with the prison-counselors the inmate was seeing, considered the accusation 'as real'. The victim was willing to be identified, prepared a consistent, hand-written description of what occurred, and also met with law enforcement. His stated motivation in coming forward was to ensure that no one else experienced what he had. There is no mention in the file of a request for compensation or any claim for damages. Furthermore, the alleged incident was not time barred since the canonical statute of limitations can always be set aside in cases of child sexual abuse by clergy. 

Given the statements regarding the credibility of the report, and since there is no question that Father Stolzman was at the reservation at that time, and especially given that he does not deny having known the family of the alleged victim, there is little to suggest that the accusation does not have at least the semblance of truth. That is not a determination of guilt or innocence on the part of Father Stolzman, but merely an indication that this ought to be looked at seriously, and that appropriate steps should be taken to ensure the safety and well-being of all involved. Those steps were to have included a review by an 'outside set of eyes' (the CDF) to ensure that there was no unjust bias clouding the Archdiocesan response. 

But, as the file demonstrates, that is not what happened. Instead, the handling of this case shifts away from the statements of those involved and the documentary evidence that is available, and instead is driven by the recollections and opinions of Father McDonough. For instance, we see him report back to the prison-chaplain that 'this is the first such concern we have received about this priest' (Stolzman file, p. 376), when in fact there was a 1997 report that Father Stolzman had child pornography in his rectory that led to an evaluation at the Anodos Center in Philadelphia. In 1997, without speaking to the individual that made the report or anyone else who had directly seen the materials, Father McDonough concluded that the incident did not involve child pornography, which may be the reason for his otherwise false statement to the prison-chaplain (Father Stolzman did admit to using pornography, but expressed more interest in 'blue material', pp. 285-286). There is also no reference in any of McDonough's reports to the fact that Father Stolzman's departure from Indian ministry was precipitated by an emotional breakdown that resulted in his receiving seven months of inpatient therapy at the Southdown Institute.

Again, none of this is proof that Father Stolzman sexually abused a minor, nor am I suggesting that it is. But, it is certainly information that should be taken into account when assessing the allegation, as well as when determining the appropriate Archdiocesan response. 

And what is that response? Well, according to the information in the file there was no response from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis for more than six months after the victim made his initial report. Clearly the Diocese of Rapid City, under the direction of Archbishop Cupich, responded promptly to the receipt of the allegations. According to the documents in the file, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis was first informed of the accusation on March 18, 2008. By March 27, the priest-chaplain was offering to facilitate admittance to the prison for the purpose of interviewing the alleged victim, and he and the victim had developed and executed a plan to complete a written statement as to what is alleged to have occurred. By March 28, the priest-chaplain (who appears to be getting rather frustrated with the Archdiocese) stresses that the victim would like some written communication from the Archdiocese in response to his report.

The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People requires dioceses to 'reach out to victims/survivors and their families and demonstrate a sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being'. Surely then, at the very least, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis had an obligation to respond to this request of the alleged victim, and at the very least should have written to him to acknowledge receipt of his allegation and to inform him of the initiation of a formal investigation and what he could expect of such a process. There should also have been a response from the Archdiocesan Victims Assistance Coordinator, who should have written to the victim and informed him of what services were available to facilitate his healing and recovery. Yet, there is not a single document in the Stolzman file to indicate that the Archdiocese made any attempt to respond to the victim's request for communication for more than six months after he made his report

Sadly, this was not unusual. In my affidavit for the Doe 1 case I wrote of how, in my experience, any 'investigation' undertaken by the Archdiocese was always done in such a way as to ensure that little, if any, useful information was collected, and would proceed so slowly that victims would become frustrated, discouraged and would eventually abandon their efforts. This situation is a perfect example of this. 

No attempt was made to respond to the victim, but Father McDonough did meet with Father Stolzman in April of 2008. Unsurprisingly, McDonough concluded that Father Stolzman's 'denial has a good deal of credibility', and he based that conclusion on his own particular brand of logic, writing that because of Father Stolzman's high level of involvement with minors on the reservation, if he had sexually abused any of them 'we should have heard at least a few other complaints in the intervening 32 years' (Stolzman file, pp.390-391). This statement is outrageous even if one is not aware that McDonough himself, at the time that he wrote this, knew that it was false (I will say more about this in a bit).

Yet, based on little more than those astute observations, the file shows that nothing more was done in this matter from April of 2008 until September of 2008. Nothing. Despite all of the policies in place, all the procedures that had been mandated, and even despite the request of the alleged victim and those in the Diocese of Rapid City who were assisting him, nothing was done. No restrictions were placed on Father Stolzman (nor is there any suggestion that the 'circle of disclosure' was put  in place), he was not asked to seek an evaluation, the Archdiocesan Clergy Review Board was not informed that an allegation had been received, no preliminary investigation was undertaken, and, above all, no attempt was made to contact the victim.

According to the file, it was not until September of 2008 (when the Jesuits called the Archdiocese for information because they had involved their review board), that anything further was done. By that time the victim had left prison, and the Archdiocese (through its own fault) had no way of contacting him. The Chancellor for Civil Affairs, Andy Eisenzimmer, was able to learn that neither the local authorities nor the FBI were investigating the matter because it had been determined that the alleged incidents were 'beyond any criminal statute of limitation', and his email of September 17, 2008, also contains the first mention of anyone in the Archdiocese suggesting that an attempt should be made to contact the alleged victim for additional information (Stolzman file, p. 398). As one would expect of the Archdiocese, this contact was not going to come from the Victims Assistance Coordinator or anyone who would appear non-threatening. Instead, the contact would come from Richard Setter, the Archdiocese's go-to investigator who Andy would admit in his deposition never concluded a single investigation into alleged sexual abuse of a minor with a finding of guilt on the part of a member of the clergy (Eisenzimmer, p. 46). 

The file does not indicate what methods were used by Mr. Setter to contact the victim, with the exception of vague references to a letter that was sent. In fact, it would appear that no other information was received between September of 2008 and June 30, 2009, when Father McDonough concluded, in a memo of that date, that there was 'insufficient evidence to consider the complaint against Father Stolzman to be credible' (Stolzman file, p. 419). McDonough's rationale, as explained in the same memo, was as follows:
  • The complainant was in prison at the time and 'has not followed up with the Archdiocese either while in prison of thereafter, in spite of various direct and indirect appeals from us that he do so'.
  • The complainant has attorneys
  • The FBI did not open an investigation
  • The priest-chaplain thought the complainant was acting in good-faith but 'competent civil investigators decided not to open the case'. 

Not one of these statements is supported by the documentation in the file. The complainant gave both verbal and written statements regarding his accusations and asked for contact with the Archdiocese while in prison, and made himself available to investigators during that time. The lack of follow-up was entirely on the part of the Archdiocese. There is no indication in the file that the complainant hired an attorney to pursue matters with the Archdiocese, although one would expect someone in prison to have an attorney for matters relating to his prosecution. Furthermore, the reason the FBI did not open an investigation didn't have anything to do with the merits of the case, but only with the fact that there was no possibility of filing charges because of the statute of limitations. Finally, no mention is made in this memo of any information that could be seen as prejudicial to Father Stolzman, including the earlier allegation.

Still, McDonough submitted his opinion 'with great confidence', and after a cursory review by the Clergy Review Board the matter was closed on April 20, 2010. Father Stolzman continued to exercise ministry in the Archdiocese as he had been, meaning as a retired priest substituting at parishes throughout the Archdiocese. Once again, the system of checks and balances put into place by the Catholic Church was bypassed, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was not informed or given the opportunity to provide instruction.

Obviously, none of what I have stated proves one way or the other whether the victim was abused and/or whether that abuse was perpetrated by Father Stolzman. But it does show that the Archdiocese knowingly failed to comply with the established protocols and procedures of the universal Catholic Church, and that in doing so it harmed both the victim and the alleged perpetrator (for, if innocent, Father Stolzman would have greatly benefited from a thorough investigation of the allegations, not in the least because it would have prevented his file from being made public at this late date).

An outsider reviewing this file would likely conclude that the Archdiocese acted in a way that was incompetent, and likely negligent, in not responding to the allegation in a timely and appropriate manner. But, that would only be half the story. For, as an insider, I can tell you that there is a whole aspect to this story that is missing from the documents that have been made public. And, unlike with previous disclosures, what is missing is not a 'privileged' document or an email or even a psychological report. What is missing is the institutional knowledge that made this case, more than any other, one where Archdiocesan leadership was loathe, if not positively opposed, to 'go looking under rocks'. What is missing is the fact that Archdiocesan officials knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that boys had been abused on the Rosebud Indian Reservation during the time period in question. 

We knew it because, as Archbishop Nienstedt was forced to acknowledge in November of 2013, one of the priests serving with the Jesuits at that time had admitted to sexually abusing several young boys and a teenager on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. That priest was Father Clarence Vavra, ordained for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in 1965 and sent to the reservation after several unsuccessful assignments in the Twin Cities and an unspecified 'leave of absence'. 

Vavra admitted to the abuse in 1996, a year before the Jesuits would receive the first report of abuse having taken place on the reservation during the time period in question. Even when it had that knowledge, however, the Archdiocese did not report the matter to law enforcement, nor did they make any effort to trace the victims of the abuse. They also resisted all attempts to make Vavra's abuse public, allowing him to quietly 'retire' as opposed to being 'removed' following the adoption of the Charter and the Essential Norms.

Significantly, until the story broke in November of 2013 no one from the reservation had come forward with any allegations of sexual abuse by Father Vavra, a fact that Father McDonough was very well aware of when he was suggesting that Father Stolzman's denial was credible for the same reason. Father McDonough would have also been aware of the 1997 report to the Jesuits.

The result was to make what occurred on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in the 1970s a very big rock that the Archdiocese didn't want to look under, because even without looking they knew what they would find. If the Archdiocese made any serious attempt to investigate the allegations received in 2008, the result almost certainly would have been to flush out additional allegations, possibly involving Father Stolzman but almost certainly including those known to have been abused by Father Vavra. The Archdiocese had a serious interest in letting sleeping dogs lie, and they were perfectly willing to cast aside their obligations as Christians, not to mention as Archdiocesan officials bound to the provisions of the Charter, to protect that interest.

By this point (January of 2015), I doubt many of you are surprised to hear that the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis did not respond appropriately to allegations of sexual abuse of minors prior to October of 2013. Then again, what makes the Stolzman file so very interesting is that it shows that the Archdiocese didn't respond appropriately to allegations even after October of 2013. 

For, in response to Minnesota Public Radio's reporting of the abuse by Father Vavra, Archbishop Nienstedt issued a statement saying, 'Serious errors were made by the archdiocese in dealing with him [Vavra]. In the spirit of offering him a path to healing and redemption, too much trust was placed in the hope of remedying Vavra's egregious behaviors. Not enough effort was made to identify and care for his victims.'

Nienstedt went on to promise, 'For the sake of the dignity of each human person and for the sake of our souls, we must fix this problem of sexual misconduct right now. For the sake of the God we love and serve, and for all who are counting on Catholic leadership to live by our beliefs and our word, I will not allow it to stand.'

And yet he did allow it to stand. For, at the very time that the file of Father Stolzman was released by Jeff Anderson and Associates following a determination by the Special Master, Father Stolzman was still in active ministry. In other words, even after the Archdiocese reluctantly submitted the file to the District Court, and even after they lost battle after battle to keep it sealed, and even after a settlement was reached in the Doe 1 case that was to have brought it new child protection protocols, no restrictions were placed upon Father Stolzman.  He was not being monitored, and no further action had been taken to ensure the safety of children, even though the Court-ordered 'outside pair of eyes' (the Special Master) had concluded the allegation had enough credibility that it could be made public. 

It was not until January 23, 2015, a week after the file was released, that the Archdiocese announced that it was reopening the investigation into the allegation and that Father Stolzman would be placed on a 'leave of absence' until its conclusion- seven years after the victim made his report. Perhaps most significantly, this decision was not the result of any new Archdiocesan staff, any new policies, the file review, or even the new commitment to a 'victims first mentality'. The investigation was reopened because of a settlement that was reached in a lawsuit- a lawsuit that the Archdiocese had fought tooth and nail.  

And that is perhaps the greatest thing the Stolzman file demonstrates. The more things change, the more things stay the same. 



Carolyn Disco
01/27/2015 2:29am

So, is the current Vicar General Father Charles V. Lachowitzer the one who refers to your efforts to expose the truth as a "crusade?" Whoever does so or did so, Brava! to you, Jennifer, is my response.

It is almost incomprehensible how the culture of mendacity continues, and no one would be the wiser without your careful analyses here. What a vital public service your blog is.

The brazen distortions and negligence of clergy officials need every disclosure possible. The lies, the damnable lies in Nienstedt's pious drivel about not allowing something to stand and then doing just that.

Again, it was a lawsuit and a legal settlement that forced the Archdiocese to act, not any desire to act in the name of the "God we love and serve," according to Nienstedt.

Acting only at the point of a legal gun is his cowardly response. Has he no shame? The question answers itself.

Comments are closed.


    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.

    To receive notice when a new post is added, follow @jmhaselberger.


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