Mistakes made in Catholic clergy sex abuse probes: Minnesota archbishop

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 24, 2013 8:38 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic archbishop of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Archdiocese said on Thursday that serious mistakes had been made in the archdiocese's investigations of allegations of sex abuse by clergy and he has ordered a review of all of its files by an outside firm.

"To those who have been hurt, to the victims of clergy abuse and their family members, I can only tell you how sorry I am," Archbishop John Nienstedt said in the archdiocese's official publication. "I realize how damaging such actions are in violating the care of their human dignity."

But David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Nienstedt's review plan would only result in more secrecy and his statement did not reveal the names of sexual predators.

"He knows who should look at these records, the cops," Clohessy said. "But he continues to act irresponsibly, to protect the predators and to endanger kids."

Nienstedt said there was "reason to question" whether the archdiocese's policies, procedures and practices for preventing and addressing clergy sexual misconduct were uniformly followed as well as the prudence of the judgments that were made.

"The first thing that must be acknowledged is that over the last decade some serious mistakes have been made," he said.

Nienstedt's statement follows St. Paul police reopening an investigation in October into whether a priest had child pornography on a laptop given to a parishioner and a police plea for victims of sexual abuse by priests to come forward.

It also follows Minnesota Public Radio reports about a former archdiocese lawyer who questions the handling of priests suspected of misconduct and accuses the archdiocese of failing to report possible child pornography evidence to law enforcement.

That lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, has called on the archbishop to allow a comprehensive external review of all archdiocese files and the removal of priests from ministry who have engaged in sexual misconduct and their public disclosure.

"Until this occurs, I do not believe that it can be said that the archdiocese is honoring its promise to protect," Haselberger said in a statement released in early October.

The Star Tribune newspaper also reported on Thursday that the archdiocese had paid out nearly $11 million from 2003 to 2012 in costs directly linked to sex abuse and other misconduct committed by priests removed from active ministry.

Nienstedt said he was aware from media reports and letters and emails from many Catholics and the general public that there is fear that some priests in the ministry are a danger to children.

"I could never knowingly allow such a situation. In order to demonstrate this fact, I have ordered a review of all clergy files by an outside firm," Nienstedt wrote.

At least two prominent local priests have called for major changes in the archdiocese, even possibly among the leadership.

"It may be time for a do over with our archdiocesan leadership," Father Bill Deziel, pastor of the Church of St. Peter in North St. Paul, said in his Sunday bulletin, adding that "sometimes a fresh start is needed."

Deziel said the archdiocese must release its list of 33 priests it believes have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children and open its files to law enforcement, with the findings made public and charges filed if necessary.

(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Beech)