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.
Former priest Jerome Kern says fondling was confused for “Italian wrestling”
In the summer of 1969, word spread back to Father Jerome Kern that the parents of two boys who attended the Church of St. Mark in St. Paul were upset with him. The parishioners claimed that Kern had been rough-housing during a trip to Lake Nokomis Beach and slid his hand repeatedly into their kids’ cut-off jeans.
The priest’s response would later be described by church officials as “brazen,” even downright “insensitive.” Kern told the parents that he had merely engaged in a little game he picked overseas known as “Italian wrestling.” The rules were simple and sound like something straight out of Satyricon: each man jostles while attempting to grasp at the other’s genitals.
This story and others like it emerged Tuesday out of the hundreds of pages of documents that are being released in anticipation of a civil lawsuit involving the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis by crusading attorney Jeffrey Anderson.
In a taped deposition, also made public, Kern admits to having touched three boys. But he says no one in a position of authority ever reprimanded him, let alone told him that his actions were wrong, during the three decades in which allegations of sexual abuse followed him as he moved around the Twin Cities metro.
“He’s going to be, when it’s all said and done, one of the most prolific perpetrators in the archdiocese,” says Mike Finnegan, one of the attorneys who deposed Kern. Church officials “kept putting him out there to the community as safe.”
Indeed, the archdiocese responded in 1969 by reassigning Kern to Our Lady of Grace in Edina, where he allegedly abused 11 more children. He wound up next at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Minnetonka, and by 1982, Kern had been accused of abusing at least 20 children.
When the boys from Lake Nokomis Beach poked their heads back up in 1987, as adults, Vicar General Michael O’Connell sent Kern off for a psychological evaluation at a church-run clinic in New Mexico. A letter to the clinic reads in part: “Knowing what we know now about pedophilia and about how it is rarely a singular act, we would have some reason to question Fr. Kern’s insistence that the event … was a singular act.”
O’Connell goes so far as to ask that Kern not be given a copy of this letter, because he suspects that Kern has not been completely honest about what happened on Lake Nokomis Beach back in 1969.
When reached for comment, Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the archdiocese, pointed back to Kern’s testimony, saying the transcript spoke for itself.
Kern was removed from ministry in 2002, and his name appears on the list of credibly accused priests that the archdiocese released in December 2013.
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.”
Nienstedt Should Resign
Sunday, October 13, 2013
From the blog: Waiting for Godot to Leave
Archbishop Nienstedt should step down, not only because of his handling of recent abuse cases in the archdiocese of St. Paul, but because he has done nothing to curb slush fund payments to child molesting priests, like the one portrayed here, who lives in luxury at Church expense at the very location where he buggered little boys.
Why is Nienstedt paying extra money to retired child abusers – money above and beyond their pensions? What possible reason could he have for rewarding the behavior of such men? And if this is not a decision Nienstedt himself has made – why has he allowed it to continue, even after it has been brought to his attention?
There is a systemic evil at work in the Church – in many dioceses, in many orders, and sometimes you’ll see it parish to parish, school to school. There is a deliberate turning away from Christ and an embrace of utter depravity, all the while mouthing pious platitudes.
Can we not recognize that yet? Do we not know that these shepherds are not calling us with the True Shepherd’s voice?
“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. (John 10:3-6)
Do we not understand? When bishops enable child molesters, reward them with extra pensions (as Nienstedt is doing), and when bishops condone the flouting of canon law, bad catechesis and liturgical abuse (as so many of them are doing), they may still be our rightful shepherds, but they are speaking with a stranger’s voice.
And that voice is getting stranger and stranger.