Archdiocese to release names of priests with substantiated claims against them of sexual abuse of a minor

| November 11, 2013

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said it will disclose the names of priests currently living in the archdiocese who have substantiated claims against them of committing sexual abuse against minors.

All of these men have been removed from ministry, Archbishop John Nienstedt said in an open letter released Nov. 11. The archdiocese will be requesting a modification of a court order, in place since 2009, that prevents disclosure of the names.

Also, a third-party review of clergy files that the archbishop ordered last month will “ensure our investigation efforts are thorough and objective,” he said.

The archdiocese expects to announce the name of the firm hired to do the review next week, and the results of the review will be announced when it is completed.

The work of the Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force also continues. The group, which began meeting last month, is conducting a full review of the archdiocese’s policies and practices related to clergy sexual misconduct.

‘Errors were made’

The archbishop’s letter was released the same day Minnesota Public Radio aired a report regarding Father Clarence Vavra, a priest of the archdiocese who self-reported that he engaged in sexual contact with young boys and a teenage boy when he worked on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota in about 1975. He also engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with adult males before being removed from active ministry in 2003.

The letter acknowledges that Vavra was not removed from ministry at the time for his admitted crimes of sexual abuse of minors. He underwent in-patient treatment from 1996 until at least 1998 and was allowed to return to ministry under the supervision of other priests. After the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” was adopted by the U.S. bishops in 2002, Vavra’s status was re-evaluated, and the archdiocesan Clergy Review Board determined he had violated the charter and recommended he be removed from ministry in 2003.

“Clarence Vavra not only violated his victims and their families, he violated his sacred trust as a priest and he deeply offended his fellow clergy and the laity,” Archbishop Nienstedt said. “Serious errors were made by the archdiocese in dealing with him. In the spirit of offering him a path to healing and redemption, too much trust was placed in the hope of remedying Vavra’s egregious behaviors. Not enough effort was made to identify and care for his victims.”

“Under our standards today,” Archbishop Nienstedt said, “Vavra should have been removed permanently from ministry when he openly admitted his crimes and the civil authorities should have been notified immediately.”

Vavra, now in his mid-70s, has been on a monitoring program of the archdiocese since December 2008. The program’s restrictions and conditions include no unsupervised contact with any minors, including family members.

Taking action

The decision to sequester Vavra by removing him from all ministry and monitoring his behavior was approved by the Holy See as an appropriate response to his abusive behavior, Archbishop Nienstedt said. The decision not to seek laicization — removal from the priesthood altogether — was based on a desire by the archdiocese to be responsible for such men instead of placing them outside of the Church as unsupervised lay citizens who would have no restrictions.

“However, we have now determined that a full review and analysis of the effectiveness of the monitoring program is warranted and we will make major changes to the approach we have been taking with the program since its inception in 2005,” the archbishop said. “We will obtain the recommendations of outside experts so that our program reflects best practices.”

He said the problem of sexual misconduct must be fixed immediately.

“Serious mistakes have been made in the archdiocese’s handling of abuse cases,” Archbishop Nienstedt said. “Offering expressions of regret and sorrow seems so inadequate in the context of the crimes of the offenders and our failures to deal with them properly. And yet, I must say how sorry I am. My heart is heavy for the victims of this repugnant abuse.”

The disclosure of the priests’ names, the review of the clergy files and monitoring program, and the creation of the task force are among actions the archdiocese is taking to accomplish four goals the archbishop identified in his Nov. 7 column in The Catholic Spirit. Those goals are protecting minors through the creation and maintenance of safe environments, caring for those who have been harmed by the Church, facilitating a healing process for the local Church in order to restore trust with the Catholic faithful, and restoring trust with the clergy.

In all cases under his leadership, Archbishop Nienstedt said the archdiocese has complied with mandated reporting requirements to law enforcement.

“The people and clergy of this archdiocese have my word that we are proceeding with urgency and vigilance to support the actions of our independent task force and third-party review of our clergy files,” he said. “Only with the understanding and sharing of this information will we begin to heal and rebuild our relationship of trust. There is nothing more important.”

Listen to audio below of Archbishop Nienstedt reading his open letter released Nov. 11.

Category: Announcements

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