Sunday, October 06, 2013

In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the Unravelment Continues

Earlier today my friends Lisa (above), Paula, and I gathered on the steps of the Cathedral of St. Paul with members and supporters of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Here we distributed leaflets expressing a number of concerns about Archbishop Nienstedt's response to recent sex abuse and cover-up scandals in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Lisa's sign points to the fact that at the same time last year that Archbishop Nienstedt was actively campaigning to deny civil marriage rights to same-sex couples, he and his administration failed to warn parishioners of a priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, with a history of sexual misconduct. Wehmeyer is now serving five years after being convicted of sexually abusing two boys and possessing child pornography. Throughout his ultimately unsuccessful anti-marriage equality campaign, the archbishop declared that granting civil marriage rights, benefits, and responsibilities to same-sex couples would threaten what he (and others) call "traditional marriage."

During this same time period, Archbishop Nienstedt failed to alert police to certain pornographic images confiscated from the computer of a second priest, Jonathan Shelley. It's since been revealed that Archdiocesan leaders debated internally for a year whether some of the images met the legal definition of child pornography. In early 2012 Jennifer Haselberger, Chancellor for Canonical Affairs, examined the images which at that time were being stored in the basement of the chancery. She determined that some of them were "definitely 'borderline' child pornography" and showed them to both Archbishop Nienstedt and Vicar General Peter Laird. In response, Laird ordered Haselberger to hand the images over to him.

Weeks passed and Haselberger, growing increasingly alarmed and impatient that nothing was being done about either the images or Shelley, decided to take matters into her own hands. In February 2013 she notified civil authorities of the stash of pornographic material at the chancery. Shortly after, she resigned from her position in Nienstedt's administration. In her April 2013 letter of resignation to the archbishop, Haselberger stated that it had become impossible to continue in her position given her "personal ethics, religious convictions, and sense of integrity." When news broke last week about the reasons for Haselberger's resignation and the archdiocese's inaction and possible coverup – Laird resigned as Vicar General.

The St. Paul Police Department's sex crimes and vice units found no child pornography in the materials provided to them by the archdiocese. However, in a September 29 police report, concerns were expressed that the archdiocese had not handed over all the evidence. Last Friday, St. Paul police obtained a copy of the priest's pornography-filled computer files. A police spokesman said he did not know whether the contents would merit reopening the case. Meanwhile, the county attorneys for Ramsey and Washington Counties said that they are ready to prosecute the case if police find anything illegal on the computer.

Following are excerpts from the Star Tribune's coverage of today's events:

Many Twin Cities parishioners heard a pulpit announcement Sunday saying that Archbishop John Nienstedt had appointed a new vicar, who will choose members for an independent task force to begin meeting this week to review all issues related to allegations of clergy misconduct. The task force will recommend new actions or policies and its findings will be made public, the archdiocese said. The new vicar is the Rev. Reginal Whitt, of the University of St. Thomas Law School.

. . . The task force has been criticized as a public relations gambit by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), whose national director, David Clohessy, went to the Cathedral of St. Paul on Sunday afternoon to hand out fliers urging churchgoers to alert authorities to suspected sexual crimes and misdeeds by clergy members.

In a written statement earlier Sunday, SNAP said that the archdiocese’s new task force wouldn’t be independent because Whitt, who will select its members, was appointed by the archbishop. Nienstedt himself should be investigated for possible involvement in a coverup, the group said. SNAP also called for a state or federal investigation into the coverup allegations.

Archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso declined to comment on SNAP’s criticism.

Above: David Clohessy (left), National Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), being interviewed by a reporter from the Star Tribune.

Above: My friend Paula Ruddy being interviewed by Rupa Shenoy of Minnesota Public Radio. Paula's sign expresses her gratitude to Jennifer Haselberger.

Updates: New Documents Show Church Leaders Debated Legality of Priest's Porn – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, October 7, 2013).
St. Paul Police Will Reopen Child Pornography Investigation of Priest – Mike Cronin, Tom Scheck, and Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, October 8, 2013).
For an Abusive Priest, Retirement Income Came with a Premium – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, October 9, 2013).
New Church Task Force on Clergy Abuse Begins Its Work – Rupa Shenoy (Minnesota Public Radio, October 9, 2013).
Woman Files Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Against St. Thomas Priest and Professor – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, October 14, 2013).
Archdiocese of Wobegon – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, October 14, 2013).

Related Off-site Links:
Victims Group Dismisses Archdiocese Review of Clergy Sexual Abuse Cases as 'Nothing But a Smokescreen' – Mike Cronin, Madeleine Baran, Tom Scheck, Jon Collins, and Rupa Shenoy (Minnesota Public Radio, October 6, 2013).
Archdiocese Coverup Allegations Draw Chastisement, Charity – Jim Adams (Star Tribune, October 6, 2013).
Under Fire, Archbishop Nienstedt Scrambles to Respond – Jean Hopfensperger (Star Tribune, October 6, 2013).
Archdiocese Case Reads Like a Dan Brown Novel – Jon Tevlin (Star Tribune, October 5, 2013).
Washington County Attorney Opens Investigation of Priest; Archdiocese Attorney Says No Evidence of Child Porn Found – Dan Browning, Kevin Giles and Kevin Duchschere (Star Tribune, October 5, 2013).
Former St. Paul Archdiocese Employee Asks for Comprehensive Review of Clergy – Jackie Crosby (Star Tribune, October 5, 2013).
Minnesota Archdiocese Accused of Withholding Child Porn from Police – Joe Winter (National Catholic Reporter, October 4, 2013).
Archdiocese Hid Hugo Priest's Child Porn Stash, St. Paul Police Say – Emily Gurnon (Pioneer Press, October 4, 2013).
Former Official: Archdiocese Didn't Report Priest's Pornography – Madeleine Baran and Mike Cronin (Minnesota Public Radio, October 4, 2013).
Rev. Peter Laird, Top Deputy of Archdiocese, Resigns – Madeleine Baran and Rupa Shenoy (Minnesota Public Radio, October 3, 2013).
Former Archdiocesan Accountant: Church Paid Priests Despite Sexual Misconduct – Madeleine Baran and Tom Scheck (Minnesota Public Radio, September 30, 2013).
"Trust Your Shepherds" – Rev. Michael Tegeder (The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 26, 2013).
Archdiocese Knew of Priest's Sexual Misbehavior, Yet Kept Him in Ministry – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, September 23, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Gay Men in the Vatican Are Giving the Rest of Us a Bad Name
Homosexuality and the Priesthood
Report: Homosexuality No Factor in Abusive Priests
Weakland, the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal, and Homophobia
What Is It That Ails You?

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

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