Archdiocese files letter with court for handling disclosures

| January 14, 2014

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed a letter Jan. 10 with the Ramsey County District Court, complying with a request from Judge John Van de North to provide recommendations for handling accusations of clergy sexual abuse of minors made known to the archdiocese after 2004.

Separate from the order, however, the archdiocese remains committed to transparency as well as “prudent and ongoing disclosure,” it said in a Jan. 14 statement.

“This principle of disclosure is unwavering,” it said. “We have been doing this, and will continue to do so, even as we work through the details of that disclosure separately with the court.”

On Dec. 5, the archdiocese released the names of 33 priests who appeared on a list of clerics believed to be credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor when the list was compiled by the archdiocese in 2003. The list was generated to fulfill a request by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, which published a national study of clergy sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002. The Dec. 5 disclosure also included Curtis Wehmeyer, a cleric who was criminally convicted of sexual abuse of a minor last year.

The archdiocese has hired Kinsale Management Consulting to conduct a third-party review of its clergy files. Two weeks ago, as a result of the file review, the archdiocese publicly disclosed the names of two priests, one of whom had a single boundary violation and another who had more than one boundary violation. Both agreed to take leaves of absence to allow for a complete review. They remain out of active ministry until the reviews are complete.

A clergy member who is found to have a substantiated claim of sexual abuse of a minor against him is never allowed to return to active ministry.

Ensuring fairness

In its letter to the judge, the archdiocese also expressed concerns that the court order as written — which requires the disclosure of names of clergy “merely accused” of sexual abuse of minors after 2004 — could jeopardize the due process rights of clergy who have been falsely accused but whose names nevertheless would be required on the disclosure list because they were the subject of an accusation, regardless of the merits. In these cases, the Church would be forced to publicize even frivolous, malicious and false accusations.

The archdiocese requested the court to stay further action on the order until there is an opportunity to fully brief the court about the archdiocese’s concerns.

“We want to ensure that all parties in this matter have a full and fair hearing,” said Joseph Kueppers, the archdiocese’s chancellor for civil affairs. “It doesn’t change any of the stated policies of the archdiocese. It actually reaffirms the policies of the archdiocese for full and fair disclosure.”

“Our letter is requesting further clarification of the court’s order,” he said.

The archdiocese’s Jan. 14 statement made clear its intention with regard to working with the court and its commitment to disclosure. “As it relates to the court, the most important thing to know is this: we look forward to working with the court in establishing a reasonable and fair process that acknowledges victims and protects children, while also ensuring the rights of all are respected. We have set forth such a proposal in our letter for consideration by the court.”

In the letter, the archdiocese proposed how it would handle allegations under the terms of the court order as it now stands.

The letter specifies that the archdiocese would relay to local law enforcement any accusation of clergy abuse of a minor occurring in the archdiocese. If law enforcement refers the matter for criminal charges, the archdiocese would disclose the cleric’s name within 15 days.

If the matter is not referred for criminal charges, the archdiocese would conduct its own investigation and determine if the clergy member’s name should be disclosed.

If the determination is made to not disclose the name, the matter would be forwarded to an independent third party who would review it and decide if the allegation should be made public.

“We reiterate what we have stated for many years: we urge anyone who suspects abuse of a minor within Church ministry to first call civil authorities,” the archdiocese said in its Jan. 14 statement. It also encouraged anyone who has been a victim of sexual misconduct in Church ministry to call the archdiocesan director of advocacy and victim assistance at (651) 291-4497.

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