Friday, April 18, 2014

Twin Cities task force reports 'serious shortcomings' in archdiocesan policies

Brian Roewe
National Catholic Reporter
April 18, 2014

Too much power in too few hands. Inadequate oversight. Broken communication channels and compartmentalized information. An outdated record-keeping system, and no meaningful program to audit and monitor compliance.

Those "serious shortcomings" emerged from a lay task force's six-month independent review of the policies and organizational structures within the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese related to the prevention of clergy sexual abuse of minors.

"The work of the Task Force revealed that, despite Archdiocesan policies and procedures designed to protect against clergy sexual abuse of minors, a flawed organizational structure with little oversight and accountability created opportunities for some priests to harm children," the seven-member Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force said in its 53-page report, released Monday.

Formed in October in response to accusations of mishandled abuse allegations by the archdiocese, the task force said that too much decision-making power regarding abuse allegations rested in one or two individuals who were not subject to monitoring themselves. The task force found communication "inadequate and, at times, non-existent" among the archdiocese, lay Catholics, the media and victims.

Pertinent information was also often restricted from decision-makers and relevant boards, and record-keeping and polices related to compliance and reporting were outdated, the report said.

Among the task force's recommendations:

Return to a single Clergy Review Board composed of mainly lay members outside archdiocesan offices that receives and reviews all allegations of clergy misconduct (in September 2013, the archdiocese had created a second board, the Ministerial Standards Board, to handle offenses unrelated to sexual abuse);
Appoint a layperson as the delegate for safe environment who is responsible for managing the archdiocese's response to all clergy misconduct and its youth protection efforts;
Create a comprehensive auditing and monitoring program to ensure an effective safe environment program;
Implement more effective record-keeping procedures to allow centralized access to information;
Strengthen and expand the mechanisms to receive complaints of clergy sexual abuse and implement an anti-retaliation policy to protect reporters;
Strengthen and include lay faculty in the candidate selection process at St. Paul Seminary;
Enhance the "essential three" components of safe environment: clergy background checks at least every six years, expanded training, and updated codes of conduct.

In addition, it urged the archdiocese "to foster a culture that places victims first, as well as a culture that welcomes sincere inquiry and criticism, and seeks input from laypeople."

"The recommendations made in this Report will not be realized if they are not supported by the prevailing culture and values within the Archdiocese," the task force said, a responsibility it said rested with Archbishop John Nienstedt and his leadership team.

In a statement, Nienstedt pledged to accept the recommendations and work toward their implementation with Dominican Fr. Reginald Whitt, the vicar for ministerial standards who appointed the task force. In an email, Whitt told NCR he is studying the report and is unavailable for interviews until after Easter.

In its own statement, the task force said the report "stands on its own" and declined press inquiries.

The task force omitted from the scope of its investigation a review of specific abuse cases, but did examine the case of Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer, currently serving a five-year prison sentence for criminal sexual conduct and possessing child pornography. It found that despite the priest displaying problematic sexual behavior between May 2004 and September 2009 and being placed on a monitoring program, no one alerted the promoter for ministerial standards or Clergy Review Board that Wehmeyer had camped with boys during the 2009 and 2010 summers. Additionally, his case never went before the review board.

"Wehmeyer's case illustrates structural deficiencies in the Archdiocese Safe Environment program and problems with the implementation of Archdiocesan policies," the report said. It noted that while training appeared successful in triggering reports from lay and clergy "of what they viewed as 'red flag' behavior by Wehmeyer, unfortunately those reports were not handled well by Archdiocesan officials, causing a delay that may have allowed further abuse to occur."


Full article at the National Catholic Reporter

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