A year in the life of the Twin Cities archdiocese
Madeleine Baran · St. Paul, Minn. · Dec 26, 2014
From the link: http://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/12/24/archdiocese-cover-up
One of the biggest stories of 2014 was the MPR News investigation of the clergy sex abuse cover-up in the Twin Cities archdiocese.
A year ago this month, a Ramsey County judge forced Archbishop John Nienstedt to release the names of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children. In the months that followed, the archdiocese faced new revelations about how deep the cover-up went and who was involved.
What’s the current state of the scandal?
Much is still happening behind the scenes. Indications are that the archdiocese will file for bankruptcy, though it claims that it hasn’t decided yet. If the archdiocese does file for bankruptcy, all of the church’s finances would be under scrutiny by a federal judge. We don’t know where that would lead or how much money victims would end up receiving.
Has the archdiocese put procedures in place to ensure reform?
Not as far as we can tell. Over the past year and a half, the archdiocese has announced a new task force and appointed various priests and lay people to advise the church on handling abuse complaints, but the structure of the chancery remains the same. The archbishop holds all the power, and does not have to follow anyone’s recommendations. The structure that allowed this cover-up to happen is still in place.
It’s also important to note some context. This isn’t the first time this archdiocese has faced a clergy sex abuse cover-up. Each time, the scandal starts with an allegation that church leaders covered up abuse. Then the archdiocese apologizes, announces new policies, meets with victims and stresses the idea of healing and moving on. Bishops in the 1980s and ’90s said the same things that church leaders say now.
Is Archbishop John Nienstedt still in charge?
He is, but more of his subordinates are making statements and granting interviews on the scandal. In some ways, he is no longer the public face of the archdiocese.
About a year ago, Nienstedt authorized an investigation into his private life. It’s still not over. Nienstedt has promised transparency and accountability, yet the public knows almost nothing about this investigation. We recently learned that the archdiocese has hired another attorney to continue the investigation, but no one at the chancery will tell the public why.
What’s happened between the archdiocese and plaintiffs’ attorney Jeff Anderson?
No one had been a louder critic of the archdiocese for its handling of sex abuse cases than Jeff Anderson. He conducted news conferences where he condemned the leaders of the archdiocese and held up photos of priests accused of abuse. That’s not happening anymore. At a news conference, he shook hands with church officials and announced a new era of cooperation. There’s a more or less orderly process of working through claims from abuse victims.
What are victims saying?
We’re just halfway through a three-year window that allows victims of child sexual abuse a chance to sue for older claims. That window closes in May of 2016.
MPR News gets calls from victims who say they haven’t told anyone that they were abused, let alone decided whether to file a lawsuit. A lot of these people are men in their 60s, even their 70s and 80s. Almost every victim says he cannot understand why parishioners aren’t up in arms over the cover-up.
Kenneth LaVan, accused priest, kept working for archdiocese until 2014
As a bishop, Robert Carlson was responsible for sniffing out sexual misconduct. It was February 1985, and he’d just gotten through interviewing Father Kenneth LaVan and a married woman who’d slept with the priest after his repeated and aggressive advances.
She was scared, she said, because he’d begun appearing outside her home and crashed a family trip to the beach. The woman’s husband confronted LaVan, and he responded by giving a sermon the following Sunday about those who would not forgive.
In private, he was more direct. As Carlson would later write, LaVan had “mentioned a threat about possibly burning down the house” and murdering her husband. But he was quoted as adding, “I am not that kind of person.”
Next came Carlson’s recommendation to Archbishop John Roach: “[W]e accept Father LaVan’s resignation from the parish, find a suitable cover story and get him into a in-patient treatment program.” He urged the archdiocese to act quickly, “so this thing does not blow up.”
But blow up, it did. Three decades later, LaVan’s personnel file — more than 1,400 pages in length — is now in the public domain. It comes to us as part of a lawsuit filed by attorney Jeff Anderson and his minions, who allege that the archdiocese (with the help of the Diocese of Winona) has protected sexual predators.
In a statement, Bishop Andrew Cozzens apologized “for the harm caused by some of our priests.” He argued that a lot has changed in recent years, including the church’s understanding of mental health and the way it reacts to abuse: “Under today’s standards and protocols, if we were to receive similar allegations regarding a priest, police would immediately be notified.”
LaVan has been accused of molesting several women (including one who suffered from a brain injury) and at least three girls (including one who had been studying to become a nun). One of those girls reported that the priest cornered her and felt her up and down while kissing madly. Another described for Gary Schoener, a psychologist hired by the archdiocese, the way LaVan pinned her to the floor, held her mouth shut, and raped her.
Although Schoener warned, as far back as 1988, that putting LaVan back into ministry was “very risky,” that’s exactly what the clergy did. After two stints in treatment and two lawsuits, LaVan retired in 1997 but continued to pick up services for vacationing priests.
In 2005, then Vicar General Kevin McDonough wrote to his superior, Archbishop Harry Flynn, seeking advice on what to do with the old boy. There were two options: ask LaVan to leave gracefully or reopen the investigation. Rules implemented in the wake of the Boston sex abuse scandal made it clear that any priest with a single act on his record needed to go.
Flynn came back with a third option: leave it alone. “I do not think we should reopen this case again since it seems to have been closed to the satisfaction of everyone involved,” he wrote.
Archbishop John Nienstedt finally stripped LaVan of responsibilities in January 2014, one month after the release of the archdiocese’s list of “credibly accused” priests. LaVan was added to that list in March.
Kevin McDonough, former vicar general, questioned about handling of sex abuse cases
Attorney Jeff Anderson questioned a second top official of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on Wednesday and again walked away complaining that he’d been cheated out of time.
Father Kevin McDonough, a former vicar general, was supposed to undergo eight hours of court-ordered testimony in preparation for a civil sex abuse trial, but Anderson claims he only got six and a half.
In a press release, Anderson says McDonough ended the deposition early on the advice of his counsel when pressed about whether claims made in the present lawsuit have been exaggerated. Anderson is suing the archdiocese on the grounds that it poses a threat to the entire population.
The crusading St. Paul attorney intends to take his complaint against McDonough to a Ramsey County judge — an act that could ultimately make the transcript and videotape open to the public.
Wednesday’s showdown comes two weeks after John Nienstedt submitted to four hours of interrogation. That same day Anderson accused the archbishop of walking out mid-question and failing to turn over all relevant documents ahead of time. Just this week the archdiocese handed over more than a dozen cases files related to internal investigations, one of which totals 3,207 pages.
A statement released Wednesday by the archdiocese responds to Anderson’s latest complaint by saying McDonough cooperated throughout the eight-hour interview. During that time, McDonough “clarified misstatements and mischaracterizations” of the alleged crimes that took place during his watch. It concludes:
Father McDonough emphasized that he always had the best interests of children and the vulnerable in mind when doing his work. He also acknowledged that the harm cause(d) by sexual abuse is serious and grave.
As vicar general, between 1991 and 2008, McDonough vetted sex abuse claims. Internal memos show that, for years, he reported to his superiors about the archdiocese’s exposure to lawsuits. His tenure as clerical detective first came into question publicly this fall with the release of an MPR report suggesting he and other officials shielded a priest who’s now in jail.
A 56-page report released Monday by an internal task force criticized the archdiocese for “a flawed organizational structure with little oversight” that “created opportunities” for abuse. It passes blame on the institution rather than the people in charge.
St. Paul police reopen child porn investigation aimed at priest Jon Shelley
St. Paul police are taking a fresh look into allegations a computer that used to be the property of the Reverend Jon Shelley contained pornographic images of children.
The case was closed last week, but during a press conference today, authorities said they’ve reopened it in light of new evidence presented to them by a parishioner of the St. Jude of the Lake church in Mahtomedi who acquired Shelley’s old computer at a rummage sale back in 2004.
“It was graphic. It was hardcore,” Ternus, referring to what he found on the computer, told MPR, adding that he planned to give the computer to his kids. “Just kind of freaked out everybody. I mean, this was something that a bunch of 6-, 7- and 8-year-old kids were going to be using, and this was what was on there waiting for them, if somebody hadn’t taken the time to go in and look for it. And apart from that, this was the computer from the parish priest where my family went.”
But archdiocese officials didn’t alert police. Shelley, a 52-year-old Minneapolis resident, ended up being sent to Maryland for treatment, but was placed back in ministry at the Parish of St. John the Baptist in Hugo when he returned to Minnesota in 2008. He’s currently on sabbatical.
According to MPR, a report on the matter prepared by investigators retrained by the archdiocese referred to “thousands” of “borderline illegal” images of young men on the computer. The Star Tribune reports that while Shelley’s attorney acknowledges the presence of adult porn on the computer, he denies it stored anything illegal. Discs containing images from the computer were ultimately stored in the basement of the archdiocese’s offices on Summit Avenue in St. Paul.
Jennifer Haselberger, the former canonical attorney for the archdiocese, claims she tried to alert Archbishop John Nienstedt about the images in the archdiocese’s possession. MPR explains what did or didn’t happen from there:
The archbishop never called police, [Haselberger] said. Months later, the Rev. Peter Laird, Nienstedt’s deputy, ordered her to hand over the pornographic images.
“I did as I was told,” said Haselberger, who resigned in April. “I went back to my office. I closed the door and I called Ramsey County.”
But officers with the St. Paul Police Department’s sex crimes and vice units couldn’t find the child pornography that Haselberger had reported, despite several reviews of the three disks of evidence the archdiocese had handed over. Police closed the case this week without charges.
Finally, the Strib details why the investigation has been reopened so soon after it was closed:
Haselberger’s allegations about the priest spilled into public view in a St. Paul courtroom last week in a separate case. Ternus then recalled that he had another copy of the images from the priest’s hard drive. [Police] picked up the copy on Friday. Investigators will review the images to determine if they are the same as those already reviewed, [a St. Paul PD spokesman] said.
Over the weekend, the archdiocese released a statement about the allegations against Shelley.
Since 2002 we have implemented a long list of policy and procedural reforms to clarify guidelines and strengthen enforcement. Some of the actions we have taken include completing more than 3,000 adult safe environment training sessions for approximately 70,000 adults; conducting 105,000 background checks on clergy, staff and volunteers; and providing over 100,000 children with age-appropriate lessons to help keep them safe.
As a further demonstration of our commitment to handling these matters aggressively and consistently, we have formed a special task force and charged them with conducting a full review of our policies and practices. When the report is complete, the findings and recommendations will be released publicly.
We are deeply sorry for any harm that has come from clergy misconduct. Eliminating any form of abuse is the highest priority for the Archdiocese. Our record is not perfect, but we have made great progress, and we are determined to do whatever is necessary to eliminate this problem.
Archbishop John Nienstedt apologies for priest sexual abuse, sort of
During remarks made at Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina yesterday, John Nienstedt, archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, apologized for not doing more to root out sexual abusers from his church and for taking inadequate measures to prevent priests from engaging in sexually abusive behavior.
But Nienstedt’s apology was measured, as he made sure to mention that he thought the Catholic church sex scandal was a thing of the past when he became archbishop in April 2007.
“When I arrived here seven years ago, one of the first things I was told was that this whole issue of clerical sex abuse had been taken care of and I didn’t have to worry about it,” Nienstedt told reporters during a brief news conference between the two masses at which he spoke (via the Star Tribune). “Unfortunately I believed that… And so my biggest apology today is to say I overlooked this. I should have investigated it a lot more than I did. When the story started to break at the end of September, I was as surprised as anyone else.”
Nienstedt delivered the same remarks at each of the two masses. He told parishioners he’s “here to apologize for the indignation that you justifiably feel. You deserve better.”
“The negative news reports about past incidents of clerical sexual abuse in this local church have rightly been met with shame, embarrassment and outrage that such heinous acts could be perpetrated by men who had taken priestly vows as well as bishops who failed to remove them from ministry,” Nienstedt continued, adding that “progress is being made in reducing the incidence of such terrible misconduct. There is reason, even now, to be hopeful.”
But one local Catholic official — Reverend Mike Tegeder, pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Minneapolis — said Nienstedt’s public apology isn’t enough.
“The fact that he says he just accepted what he was told seems to be a question of his leadership,” Tegeder, who has previously called for Nienstedy to resign, told the Strib. “That’s not an excuse. He had the responsibility to really search that out.”
New release reveals alleged pedo-priest was moved around the state
The Diocese of Winona released the names of 14 priests Monday, adding to a growing list of suspected pedophiles throughout the state and confirming what some attorneys and clergy already knew: For decades the Rev. Thomas Adamson moved from parish to parish in the shadow of sexual abuse.
“It is a difficult time for the Church in the Diocese of Winona,” reads a statement. “It is also a time of hope which presents an opportunity to heal and continue moving forward.”
Adamson now appears on both lists produced by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona. According to a lawsuit filed in Ramsey County court, he molested more than 20 boys between 1964 and 1984, when he was finally suspended from the ministry.
On one occasion, in the late 1960s, he allegedly asked two boys to disrobe. In 1974, he admitted to having touched another boy’s genitals at a YMCA, according to the lawsuit. Police were never called.
Midway through his tenure, in 1975, he was dumped on the parishioners of St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park (and later the Immaculate Conception Church in Columbia Heights). At the time, the lawsuit says, Winona Bishop Loras Watters told Archbishop John Roach that Adamson was being transferred because he needed counseling.
“Despite these clear indications of danger,” attorneys wrote, “Archdiocese Officials took no steps to discover the specific nature of Adamson’s problems or whether he was fit to work with children.”
Adamson is 80 years old and reportedly living in Rochester. We’ve been unable to reach him independently and attempted to speak with him through the archdiocese. We also await a request to speak with church attorneys about several allegations laid out in the lawsuit involving Adamson.
Jim Keenan, a 46-year-old man who claims to have been abused by Adamson as a teenager, criticized church officials at a recent press conference for having taken this long to acknowledge the problem. For years church officials in Winona and St. Paul resisted calls to name names. A judge put an end to that last month.
“Try to put your hands behind the idea that someone has to force a religious organization to protect children,” Keenan said. “That’s crazy.”
The Winona list comes one day after Archbishop John Nienstedt apologized to parishioners of Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina for not having done more to root out abusers. When he became archbishop in 2007, he said, he’d been told the dark dealings were a thing of the past.
Mike Finnegan, a St. Paul attorney representing several abuse victims, disagrees with Nienstedt’s version of reality. As head honcho, Nienstedt was well aware of the complaints in recent years against John Shelly (child porn), Michael Keating (abuse) and Curtis Wehmeyer (child porn and abuse) and even delayed their expulsion from the ministry, Finnegan said.
“He failed to take any personal responsibility or even acknowledge the serious failures that he’s made in handling child sex abuse,” Finnegan added. “Until he does that, we haven’t come close to a true accountability.”
It’s unclear how Nienstedt’s word games will affect ongoing criminal investigations. St. Paul police spokesman Howie Padilla declined to comment on the significance of Sunday’s mea culpa, saying detectives were preoccupied with finding victims. A “handful or less” have come forward, Padilla said, since the archdiocese’s list was released Dec. 5.
“We’re going to do everything we can to treat their cases with the respect they deserve,” he added.
Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on church officials in other parts of the state to release their own lists, which were produced privately about a decade ago. For instance, the Diocese of St. Cloud has yet to release 26 names and the Diocese of Duluth has yet to release 17.
Last week, St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville voluntarily released the names of 18 monks who, in the monastery’s own words, “likely have offended against minors.” Seven of those men are dead, two have been “dispensed from their religious vows” and — remarkably — nine are still toiling away “under supervised safety plans.”
Victims advocates complaint that the list doesn’t include four previously named monks — John Eidenschink, Steven Lilly, James Kelly and Isaac Connolly — and a former abbot, now deceased, Timothy Kelly.
Brother Aelred Senna, an abbey spokesman, did not return a message seeking comment. However, a statement he previously released notes that the task of compiling and releasing the list was
complicated by the passage of time, the deaths of some of those involved and sometimes incomplete accounts of the past. Even so, we are including all 18 names to provide as complete of a list as we can to acknowledge the pain suffered by victims.
Finnegan, the attorney, said his law firm has been in touch with police about the allegations of the abbey monks.
“It alarms us that these men are still on the campus up there at St. John’s with hundreds of students around,” he said. “They can’t possibly monitor these men 24 hours a day.”
The list released Monday by the Diocese of Winona. (Assignment details for anyone other than Adamson can be found by clicking on the name.)
Thomas P. Adamson
Date of Birth: July 12, 1933
Date of Ordination: May 31, 1958
June 13, 1958 – Saint Casimir, Winona, MN
June 13, 1958 – Cotter High School, Winona, MN
June 16, 1961 – Saint Adrian, Adrian, MN
June 16, 1961 – Saint Adrian High School, Adrian, MN
August 16, 1962 – Lourdes High School, Rochester, MN
August 20, 1963 – Saint John’s, Caledonia, MN
November 30, 1964 – Lourdes High School, Rochester, MN
June 8, 1966 – Saint Clement, Hammond, MN
June 15, 1967 – Saint Theodore, Albert Lea, MN
August 14, 1968 – Saint Lawrence, Fountain, MN and Saint Kilian, Wykoff, MN
June 24, 1971 – Saint Francis of Assisi, Rochester, MN
June 17, 1976 – Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Paul Park, MN
1979 – Immaculate Conception Church, Columbia Heights, MN
Ministerial Status: Suspended from ministry in 1984 and laicized (2009)
Current Address: Rochester, MN
Sylvester F. Brown – Deceased 2010
Joseph C. Cashman – Permanently removed from ministry in 1992; laicization pending in Canonical Tribunal
Louis G. Cook – Deceased 2004
William D. Curtis – Deceased 2001
John R. Feiten – Deceased 2001
Richard E. Hatch – Deceased 2005
Ferdinand L. Kaiser – Deceased 1973
Jack L. Krough – Permanently removed from ministry in 2002; laicization pending in Canonical Tribunal
Michael J. Kuisle – Deceased 1971
James W. Lennon -Deceased 2000
Leland J. Smith – Permanently removed from ministry in 1994; laicization pending in Canonical Tribunal
Robert H. Taylor – Deceased 2012
Leo Charles Koppala – Administrative leave pending outcome of criminal proceedings in Faribault County, Minnesota
The accused monks of St. John’s Abbey, the first nine of whom are still active:
Andre Bennett – deceased
Robert Blumeyer – deceased
Cosmas Dahlheimer – deceased
Othmar Hohmann – deceased
Dominic Keller – deceased
Pirmin Wendt – deceased
Bruce Wollmering – deceased
Francis Hoefgen – no longer at the abbey
John Kelly – no longer at the abbey
Letter to Catholic Church officials calls for Timothy Backous’ removal from ministry
Chris and Kathy McDermid, both retired school teachers who live in St. Cloud, were incredulous when they heard the news and incensed when they later found out that Father Timothy Backous had presided over a Memorial Day weekend Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary.
In coming forward, the McDermids asked that their son’s name be protected. They say he no longer lives in Minnesota and is 36, which would have made him 12 on that trip to Europe in 1990.
“Since the life-changing events that occurred decades ago, our family has done its best to pick up the pieces and be supportive to our son,” the couple wrote. “It is difficult as parents, knowing what he’s going through and watching him suffer.”
A message left with Backous was not returned Tuesday. When reached for comment, Klassen released a statement in which he expresses sympathy for the family but defends his underling. The abbot says he’s worked alongside Backous for years and seen his “many, many interactions with children and young people,” and continues:
I have also reviewed the reports from nearly 25 years ago when the allegations of inappropriate conduct against Father Backous were first presented. The allegations were not substantiated. Father Backous has no restrictions placed upon him. I have absolute confidence in his integrity and character.
Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which also received a copy of the letter, says he’s looking into it. “Father Backous is a priest in good standing and that is why he’s saying Mass at the Basilica,” Accurso says, adding, “These charges are new to us.”
In a separate statement, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens states,
We seek to obtain more information surrounding this accusation and how it was addressed by the Order of Saint Benedict. We believe this is a prudent response and is consistent with our commitment to protect children and help in healing.
The McDermids are asking that church officials remove Backous, once and for all, from ministry. “I can’t even describe it,” Kathy tells us in a phone interview. “We were angry and just really sad to think that they would go against their word.”
Chris’ voice pops through a second receiver in the McDermit’s home: “We just hope that Father Timothy Backous would have no further access to children. It’s gotta stop.”
STATEMENT OF BISHOP ANDREW COZZENS REGARDING FATHER TIMOTHY BACKOUS, O.S.B.
June 11, 2014
Approximately a week ago, Archbishop John Nienstedt received a letter from a couple who claimed their son was abused by Rev. Timothy Backous, O.S.B., a priest of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN. The parents claimed their son was abused while on a youth choir trip while they were members of a parish in Saint Cloud. The accusation indicates the alleged abuse occurred more than 20 years ago, and the parents stated they contacted the police. The family wrote that it was contacting the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis because they had recently seen Rev. Backous, O.S.B. celebrating Mass at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, and were disappointed with the way St. John’s Abbey handled their complaint. The O.S.B. is an order of priests separate from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and operates out of Saint John’s Abbey in Saint Cloud, MN.
Immediately after receiving the letter, we checked our priest files and found a letter from Saint John’s Abbey (which is part of the Order of Saint Benedict) had been sent to us indicating Rev. Backous was a priest in good standing before he was granted permission to minister in the archdiocese.
We seek to obtain more information surrounding this accusation and how it was addressed by the Order of Saint Benedict. We believe this is a prudent response and is consistent with our commitment to protect children and help in healing.
Any further questions about Rev. Backous should be referred to Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN.
We continue to pray for all involved.
For Minnesota Catholics, troubling new abuse scandal
By Amy Forliti of Associated Press
Unlike other abuse revelations that have rocked theJennifer Haselberger, the allegations in Minnesota aren’t decades old or involve perpetrators long retired or dead.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — When Jennifer Haselberger uncovered what looked like recent, troubling sexual behavior by several Minnesota priests — a stash of possible child pornography on one priest’s computer hard drive, another with a well-documented history of sexual compulsion still leading a parish — she tried to ring alarm bells at the top ranks of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese.
But Haselberger, who resigned last April as the archdiocese’s chancellor for canonical affairs, said she felt ignored. She has since gone public with concerns that Minnesota’s archbishop and top deputies failed to truly reform how they handle problem priests, despite repeated promises to do so.
“I do not believe it can be said that the archdiocese is honoring its promise to protect” children and young people, Haselberger said last week in a statement to the media.
Unlike many of the abuse revelations that have rocked the U.S. Catholic Church, the allegations Haselberger brought to light aren’t decades old or involve perpetrators long retired or dead. They all happened after 2002, when U.S. bishops held a high-profile meeting in Dallas and approved broad policy changes meant to quickly remove predatory priests from parishes and restore the church’s tattered credibility with millions of Catholics.
“They weren’t just going to sweep stuff under the rug. They weren’t going to move him around,” said Joe Ternus, who in 2004 found what he called “a ridiculous amount of pornography” on the hard drive of a computer he purchased at a church rummage sale and that had belonged to Jonathan Shelley, a parish priest.
Ternus, whose parents and sister attended Shelley’s church, turned the hard drive over to archdiocesan officials.
“I was given assurances that this wasn’t going to happen, but that’s exactly what happened,” Ternus said.
Haselberger’s allegations have the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese playing defense. Last week, Archbishop John Nienstedt accepted the hasty resignation of his top-ranking deputy, the Rev. Peter Laird, who wrote in his resignation letter that he hoped to “repair the trust of many, especially the victims of abuse.” Nienstedt also convened what he said would be an independent task force to examine the way church leaders officials have handled accusations of sexual misconduct by priests.
But church leaders weren’t initially so eager to deal with the cases. Minnesota Public Radio News obtained a letter from Nienstedt to Cardinal William Levada, the now-retired Vatican official who ran the office that oversees errant priests, spelling out who an archdiocese investigator found pornographic images on Shelley’s hard drive that were at least “borderline illegal, because of the youthful looking male images.”
“My staff has expressed concern the fact that CD-ROMs containing the images remain in the cleric’s personnel file could expose the archdiocese, as well as myself, to criminal prosecution,” Nienstedt wrote to Levada.
The archdiocese declined to make Nienstedt or Laird available for interviews. Spokesman Jim Accurso said media coverage of the recent allegations “leave a false impression about the commitment of the archdiocese to identify and address sexual misconduct by priests.” He said eliminating any form of abuse is the “highest priority” for the archdiocese.
Tom Wieser, an attorney for the archdiocese, has called Haselberger “a disgruntled former employee.” She worked at the archdiocese from 2008 to last April, when she resigned because of concerns about the way sexual abuse allegations were handled.
According to a police report, Haselberger found computer discs and a white three-ring binder in the vault last year that appeared to be evidence from a 2004 internal investigation into the images. A police report said Haselberger told Laird what she found, and was instructed to “put them back in the vault.”
Shelley’s lawyer said there was no child pornography on the disc. And an attorney for the archdiocese said a computer forensics expert also found no evidence to support Haselberger’s allegations. Police also found no evidence of child pornography, but acknowledged they didn’t have the computer itself.
Police received new information from Ternus on Friday, and on Tuesday afternoon they announced they were reopening the child pornography investigation. In his initial report, lead investigator Sgt. William Gillet openly wondered whether the archdiocese turned over all the pertinent evidence.
In the other case at issue, the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer was allowed to remain in ministry despite ample evidence that archdiocesan leaders knew of sexual misconduct. He is now in prison for sexually abusing two children and possessing child pornography.
Haselberger told The Associated Press in an email Tuesday that she raised concerns with her superiors in 2008, and again last year.
“Having worked on similar cases in other dioceses, I was completely unprepared for the responses I received in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis,” she wrote.
The new policies formulated by bishops in 2002 were specifically designed to quickly root out problem priests. One church leader instrumental in that process was Harry Flynn, Nienstedt’s predecessor in St. Paul-Minneapolis. Flynn is implicated in some of the decisions that Haselberger brought to light; he could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
“Since 2002, there was a real sea change, and I believe most bishops got it,” said Nicholas Cafardi, a former church canon lawyer who was involved in drawing up the new policies. Now a professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Cafardi said he would be personally shocked to learn that top officials in any diocese sheltered potential abusers since then.
Cafardi cautioned that he’s not familiar with the new allegations, and noted in particular that finding a priest in possession of legal pornography raises thorny questions for his supervisors in the church. But if it’s proven that church leaders failed to live up to the 2002 policies, he said, it would damage the church’s efforts to move beyond past scandals.
“Any diocese that’s not following that makes people question the credibility of the policy,” he said. “That then harms the entire church in the U.S., because people will think if this bishop does it, then is another bishop doing it?”
Church whistleblower says she ‘didn’t do enough’
By Amy Forliti of Associated Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. — After she made her First Communion as a little girl, Jennifer Haselberger was distraught to learn the Catholic church had no saint Jennifer, and she had no saint to call her own. So her mom opened up a book and pointed to Joan of Arc.
“There. That’s yours,” she said.
Years later, Haselberger is in a fight of her own after going public with claims that archdiocese leaders in St. Paul mishandled allegations of clergy sexual misconduct. Turns out, Haselberger may have borrowed a little bravery from the headstrong French heroine she has long admired.
Haselberger, a former canon lawyer for the archdiocese, took on leaders of the church she loves after she felt her warnings about troubled priests were being ignored, setting off a firestorm in the local church.
“If a child was hurt, Jenny would do everything within her power to stop that. The lengths that she went to were probably heroic,” said Anne Maloney, Haselberger’s former college adviser.
Haselberger resigned in April after she says Archbishop John Nienstedt and others did not respond appropriately when she found pornography, including images of possible child pornography, on computer disks that once belonged to a priest who was still in ministry. This came after she says church leaders ignored her repeated warnings dating back to 2008 about another priest who went on to molest two boys in his camper in 2010.
“I can never undo what happened to those boys, and that hangs incredibly heavy on me,” Haselberger told The Associated Press. “I didn’t do enough.”
Haselberger said she resigned because church leaders weren’t listening, and she went to authorities and to the media because they wouldn’t change. Since then, Nienstedt’s top deputy has stepped down, and the church set up an independent task force to review its policies. Police are also investigating.
“I came to the conclusion that I was going to do whatever it took, that this was not acceptable … and let the chips fall where they may,” she said.
Haselberger has gone to law enforcement about two priests, and she says she had brought concerns about others to church leaders. She declined to elaborate, but said she expects more details will emerge.
Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said he could not comment on Haselberger or her resignation because it is a personnel matter. Accurso has said the information portrayed in the media is incomplete because it has been presented without context.
Tom Doyle, founder of the Catholic Whistleblowers group, said it is still rare — and risky — for someone from within the church to come forward and challenge bishops, who he likened to absolute rulers.
“Everyone I know of who has been a whistleblower has sacrificed their career,” said Doyle.
Haselberger, a Minnesota Wild fan and equestrienne, grew up in a Polish-Catholic family with a great uncle and a great aunt who both went into religious life. While she never considered that herself, she calls the church her “home,” and still stands behind it and the many clergy she respects and considers heroes.
While an undergrad at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. She also became a leader of a student group that opposed abortion and advocated for valuing human life, Maloney said.
“I never once saw Jenny back down from a conversation or dispute,” Maloney said. “She believed being anti-abortion was the best way to be a feminist.”
Inspired by a religious sister, she also began writing to a man on death row in Angola, La. She is against capital punishment and became his spiritual director. The man’s death sentence was vacated when Hurricane Katrina destroyed prison records, but she said the experience taught her about striking a balance between caring for offenders and protecting the innocent, something she says could also apply to accused clergy.
“I despise the acts that they committed, but I don’t hate them,” she said.
Haselberger earned her doctorate of philosophy at the University of London. While waiting to defend her thesis, she began taking classes at Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, where she earned her licentiate in canon law and graduated with highest honors in 2004.
While living in a prestigious academic community in London, Haselberger organized a lecture about a woman who went to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated atrocities committed during the apartheid era, to seek amnesty not for violence or any other crimes — but for her apathy in apartheid-controlled South Africa. Her example inspired Haselberger.
“That really resonated with me at the time … it’s such a phenomenal example of personal accountability,” Haselberger said.
When Haselberger began working for the archdiocese in 2008, Nienstedt called her “studious” and “thoughtful.”
That contrasts with statements made after her allegations. Archdiocese attorney Tom Wieser said in a recent court hearing that Haselberger was a “disgruntled former employee” who was unauthorized to investigate allegations of child pornography but did so anyway, something he called “unsophisticated and imprudent.” According to a court transcript, Wieser said Haselberger decided for herself that the images were illegal, and went to authorities, who found no evidence of child pornography. St. Paul Police have since reopened their investigation.
Now outside the chancery walls, Haselberger is a consultant, available to help victims of abuse, or others, navigate the ins and outs of canon law.
She knows she’ll likely never work for the church again, and her eyes get watery when she talks about how much she would have loved serving in the church of Pope Francis. But she said her only regret is not speaking out sooner.
“I certainly always attempted to make my points using facts and reason and to do so respectfully,” she said. “But I would hope that people would say that ‘She was incredibly passionate about this.’ Because I would be disappointed in myself if I wasn’t.”