Independent task force will review archdiocese’s clergy sexual misconduct policies, practices

| October 9, 2013

Local Dominican priest appointed as new vicar for ministerial standards

Father Whitt

Father Whitt

A newly formed Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force will conduct a full review of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ policies and practices and “any and all issues” related to clergy sexual misconduct.

This includes examining how allegations of clergy sexual misconduct have been handled and what must be done to address any gaps in the process.

The findings and recommendations of the independent lay group will be released publicly when its final report is complete, according to an Oct. 6 archdiocesan statement.

The creation of the task force comes amid sexual misconduct allegations in the media concerning certain priests in the archdiocese and how their cases were handled by archdiocesan officials.

“These allegations must be addressed urgently, transparently and with truly independent review,” Archbishop John Nienstedt said. “Addressing these serious allegations is the top priority for the archdiocese.”

New vicar

The archbishop has appointed a new vicar for ministerial standards, Dominican Father Reginald Whitt, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. He will assume full responsibility for all issues related to clergy sexual misconduct, the archdiocese said.

Meet Father WhittFather Reginald Whitt returned to the faculty at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in the fall of 2007 after taking a leave to serve as president of the pontifical faculty at the Dominican House of Studies in 2003.

He has taught on the law school faculties of Villanova University, University of Kentucky, Duke University and the University of Notre Dame. He is known for his research in African-American Catholic concerns.

Father Whitt was a founding member of the St. Thomas School of Law faculty.

Source: University of St. Thomas School of Law

Father Whitt is appointing the members of the all-layperson task force, which is expected to convene this week. It will consist of at least six people from a variety of backgrounds — none of whom are employed by the archdiocese or any of its parishes.

Six members of the task force were announced at an Oct. 9 press conference. The members are: Kathleen Erickson DiGiorno, Julie Oseid, Brook T. Schaub, Brian P. Short, Colleen Striegel, and Michael D. Thompson, M.S.W., Psy.D. Read bios of these six task force members.

Father Whitt is considering additional candidates who expressed interest in serving and who have the experience and expertise in the areas needed to round out the task force.

The archbishop will not review the task force’s membership or make any decisions about the membership, the archdiocese said. The vicar will not attend its meetings unless invited by the chairperson.

“What I foresee the task force doing is taking a thorough look at what [the archdiocese] has on paper, what’s actually been done, and the extent to which it has not adhered to previously existing standards,” Father Whitt said. “And then to propose ways to put us at a point where we have the best practices in the country.”

Father Whitt will receive the task force’s report and ensure it is in compliance with both civil and Church law. He will publish the final findings and recommendations as well as implement the recommendations, which the archbishop has pledged to accept.

What is a vicar?Within the canon law of the Catholic Church, an episcopal vicar, who must be a priest, may be appointed by the diocesan bishop. Once appointed, the vicar has the power to act with full authority in the area entrusted to him. In this capacity, the vicar may operate with the equivalent power of the archbishop. In this case, Father Whitt may enact new policies for the archdiocese and make any decisions he deems necessary that are related directly or indirectly to clergy sexual misconduct.

Source: Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Getting what they need

The Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force will operate independently of both the vicar for ministerial standards and the archbishop. It will have full authority and all the resources needed to complete its work, the archdiocese said.

“They [task force members] are going to decide what they want to investigate within the parameters of the charge given to them,” Father Whitt said. “Whatever they recommend to me as reasonable for them to perform their task, it’s my business to see that they get it.”

Archbishop Nienstedt said there is “no room for misconduct among our clergy and our standard must be zero tolerance for abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. We hold a sacred trust. Our very vocation requires the highest standard of conduct so that all may be drawn to the person of Jesus Christ through our witness.”

Father Whitt said he is impressed by the archbishop’s decision to call for the formation of the independent group to address the issue.

“He’s not ducking behind a door,” Father Whitt said. “Rather, he’s admitted things have gone terribly awry in our diocese. He wants it corrected, and he wants the basis for that correction to come from people who have expertise and have taken a critical look at what has gone on in the past to ensure the people of the archdiocese that that kind of thing will no longer occur.”

“The people of God and the Catholic Church in Minnesota deserve the best, and we’re going to do what we can to provide them with the best,” Father Whitt said.


Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force

SCOPE:

  • Review all documents of the archdiocese relating to its policies and procedures for preventing, investigating, and responding to sexual misconduct by clergy and all documents relating to the protection of children, youth, and vulnerable adults from such misconduct. It is responsible for providing recommendations that will ensure that the archdiocese has effective policies and procedures for preventing, investigating, and responding to sexual misconduct by clergy that are in compliance with norms of civil and canon law.
  • Interview staff members of the archdiocese, former staff members of the archdiocese, and others at its discretion, including victims of clergy sexual misconduct and clergy who have been accused of misconduct.
  • Review any and all issues related directly or indirectly to clergy sexual misconduct in the archdiocese, and prepare a report to the vicar for ministerial standards that will recommend actions to be taken by the archdiocese regarding these issues.

The archdiocese will cooperate fully with the task force.

The archdiocese will provide the task force with access to records of the archdiocese related to clergy sexual misconduct, and policies and procedures of the archdiocese related to the handling of clergy sexual misconduct and the protection of children, youth and vulnerable adults from such misconduct.

OUTCOME:

The task force will issue a report, or multiple reports, if it deems appropriate, to the vicar of ministerial standards.

As directed by the archbishop, the vicar will receive the report(s) of the task force, ensure that the product is in compliance with civil and canon law, publish the final findings and recommendations, and implement the final recommendations.

While the archbishop retains his authority in the archdiocese, he has committed that he will not interfere in the work of the vicar or the task force.

Source: Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

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