MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — There have been serious shortcomings in how the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has handled allegations of sexual abuse by priests because too much decision-making power was given to one or two people who weren’t subject to adequate oversight, a task force commissioned by the archdiocese reported Monday.
The task force recommended forming a single clergy-review board with a majority of laypeople to review all allegations of clergy misconduct. It said a lay person should be hired to take charge of all issues related to clergy sexual abuse and to report allegations to police. And it called for a comprehensive auditing and monitoring program to ensure that efforts to provide a safe environment are effective.
Archbishop John Nienstedt has pledged to accept the recommendations, the archdiocese said in a statement. The Rev. Reginald Whitt, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas who named the seven-member task force last October, will oversee the implementation of the 53-page report, the statement said.
The report drew an immediate rebuke from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which said the task force wasn’t really independent. The group predicted nothing would change.
“It’s laughable that this panel blames ‘outdated systems’ for deliberate decisions by dozens of Catholic officials. As long as we act like these are ‘mistakes’ and not intentional, self-serving choices by smart but selfish men, kids will continue being hurt and crimes will continue being concealed,” SNAP’s outreach director, Barbara Dorris, said in a statement.
The report noted that the archbishop’s top deputy, his vicar general, was also in charge of the archdiocese’s efforts against clerical sexual misconduct for many years. It said he held both positions “too long” and was “allowed to exercise too much discretion in the handling of cases without oversight or review,” the report said.
While the report did not give the top deputy’s name in that context, it was a clear reference to the Rev. Kevin McDonough. He served as vicar general for 17 years until 2008, and oversaw abuse prevention until last September.
The task force also criticized communications within the archdiocese and with Catholics, the public, the media and victims as “inadequate and, at times, non-existent.” Pertinent information was compartmentalized, preventing decision-makers and oversight board from catching early warning signs of future problems, it said.
While the task force was able to interview Nienstedt and a number of other church officials, it said McDonough declined an interview, as did Jennifer Haselberger, a former canon law expert for the archdiocese who resigned last April and became a whistleblower over her concerns about how Nienstedt and his top deputies handled problem priests.
The task force said it was unable to reach the Rev. Peter Laird in time. Laird served as vicar general from 2009 until he resigned last October, after Haselberger went public. It faulted the archdiocese for claiming it had no way to contact Laird when, in fact, Laird had written to the archbishop to request to speak to the task force and provided his phone number and archdiocese email address.
Other recommendations included more effective record keeping on the conduct of clergy to make sure it’s available to overseers, an anonymous hotline where suspected abuse can be reported, a stronger selection process for seminarians, periodic background checks on clergy, expanded awareness training, and updated codes of conduct.