Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Four things needed to move beyond the (St. Paul - Minneapolis Archdiocese) 'crisis'

Jennifer Haselberger
October 14, 2014

Unusually for me, I have agreed to interviews with WCCO TV and radio this afternoon. This has forced me to spend more time ruminating on the provisions of the Doe 1 settlement, and what it means in terms of resolving the crisis in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. I want to state at the outset that I really would like to see this crisis come to an end. I have no interest in becoming entrenched in a position of binary opposition to the Archbishop or the Archdiocese. At the same time, I must admit that I felt much more hopeful about the settlement and its impact prior to the press conference yesterday afternoon. I continue to believe that the provisions of the settlement will have a tremendous impact, but I see that impact as being limited to two key areas: support for victims and investigations of alleged criminal conduct. The rest of the provisions are, by and large, little more than a restatement of previous promises, and I don't think we should be patting the Archdiocese on the back for agreeing not to have priests in ministry who have abused minors.

In order for me to believe that we are truly entering 'a new era', I think that four things still need to occur. What follows is my attempt to outline these four things, as well as to explain my reasons for believing they are necessary. I hope to also have the opportunity to discuss these items with WCCO this afternoon.

Item #1: Leadership Change in the Archdiocese

The first and most critical 'action item' if you will, is leadership change in the Archdiocese. Obviously, this has to begin with Archbishop Nienstedt. Whether he chooses to resign or some process is begun to determine his fitness for ministry is not for me to say. What I think is clear is that he lacks many of the characteristics to be any sort of a leader, much less a good leader. This is not just a comment on his handling of allegations of sexual abuse. Many besides me have raised issues about his style of management, his ability to relate to people, and his administration in general. Yet, in calling for a change in leadership, I do not mean to stop there. Bishop Piche should be granted medical retirement. Bishop Cozzens, if his episcopal ministry is to be salvaged, should be transferred to another Archdiocese where he can serve as an auxiliary under a bishop capable of mentoring him in authentic and effective pastoral leadership. The rest of the upper levels of Archdiocesan staff also have to go. I observed yesterday's press conference from the back of the room, and so my view was different than those of you who saw it unfold through the lens of a camera. From my vantage point what was obvious was that while the faces in front of the camera were by and large new, the faces of those beyond camera range were all too familiar. There will not be any true change in the Archdiocese until all the faces are new. If someone was in a directive position in the years leading up to or during 2013, and stood by while the Archdiocese was assuring the public that there were no accused priests in active ministry, that it was complying with the Charter, and that there had been only one credible accusation since 2005, he or she needs to go. Perhaps that will happen as part of a reorganization plan arising from a Chapter 11 filing, but previous Archdiocesan reorgs have rarely led to the right departures. I think we will only see this change when there is a change at the very top.

Item #2: More Clergy Must be Removed from Ministry

I will not be satisfied that the Archdiocese is doing all it can to protect children and vulnerable adults until additional men are removed from ministry. A quick perusal of my Doe 1 affidavit should my demonstrate grounds for concern. At the press conference yesterday Tim O'Mallley seemed to indicate further removals were coming, but I doubt that these will entirely conform to the list that I have in my head of those whose ministry is a threat to the wellbeing of the faithful. Further removals will single that the Archdiocese is finally moving beyond a mentality of putting the interests of the priests above the interests of the people.

Item #3: The Archdiocese Must Authorize Greene and Espel to Release the Full Report on their Investigation into the Conduct of Archbishop Nienstedt.

Frankly, I am not interested in the conclusions that may be disclosed from the Archdiocese. What needs to be released is the work done by the attorneys at Greene and Espel. I state this not from prurient interest- I think I have a fairly clear idea, based on conversations with others, about what is in their report- but rather because if the Catholic Church is going to get beyond the sexual abuse crisis, we need to ensure that our seminaries are adequately screening and forming men for service to the Church. I am alarmed by how many reports I have heard of inappropriate conduct by the Archbishop towards seminarians under his care. If there has been a system in place for rewarding men for submitting or overlooking such behavior, the Church needs to address it rather than let it perpetuate. Consider this: the most recent version of the Program for Priestly Formation, the normative guide to seminary formation in the United States, was drafted under the Chairmanship of Archbishop Nienstedt. This should be a grave cause for concern.

Item #4: The Archdiocese Must Demonstrate that it is Providing for the Care and Support of the Victims of Father Wehmeyer

Nothing was said yesterday about the young men who were the victims of Curtis Wehmeyer. The Archdiocese needs to accept its responsibility for the harm that was done to them. The way to demonstrate this is to provide assurance that those boys are receiving what they need- right now, at this moment. The Archdiocese has tended towards 'scorched earth' tactics in litigation, which often rely on attempts to starve plaintiffs into submission. We need assurances that this is not currently taking place.

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