After call for MN grand jury, archdiocese says it will cooperate with ‘any new investigation’

| August 24, 2018 | 0 Comments

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said that it would cooperate with any new investigation into clergy sex abuse Aug. 23, following a St. Paul attorney’s call for Minnesota’s governor to commission a grand jury to investigate the situation statewide.

“Today, Jeff Anderson called for a grand jury Investigation of all dioceses in Minnesota. In early 2015, he called for an investigation of this archdiocese. We cooperated with that investigation and would cooperate with any further investigation,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda; Judge Tim O’Malley, director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment; and Tom Abood, chairman of the Archdiocesan Financial Council and the Reorganization Task Force, said in a joint statement.

Anderson, whose law practice focuses on sexual abuse victims/survivors, announced during an Aug. 23 press conference that he has asked Gov. Mark Dayton to authorize an investigation similar to the one of six Pennsylvania dioceses, whose redacted report was released Aug. 14. The Pennsylvania report included child sex abuse allegations against more than 300 clergy from more than 1,000 survivors from a period of 70 years.

Anderson said that a Minnesota grand jury commission could reveal similar situation among the state’s six dioceses: Crookston, Duluth, New Ulm, St. Cloud, Winona-Rochester, and St. Paul and Minneapolis.

He said that a grand jury investigation could not only uncover new abuse allegations, but also efforts by Church officials to cover up abuse.

In his remarks, Anderson made little distinction between the archdiocese and the other dioceses, despite varying levels of disclosure of abuse-related documents and names of accused priests. As a result of litigation, the archdiocese has already disclosed its files of priests credibly accused of abuse to Anderson’s office, and they are available in redacted form at Anderson’s website, andersonadvocates.com.

The archdiocese’s website lists the names of clergy who have served in the archdiocese with substantiated allegations of abuse against them, even if the alleged abuse occurred outside of the archdiocese. As of Aug. 23, 61 clergy or former clergy are listed as having substantiated claims of abuse of a minor within the archdiocese; another 30 have a substantiated claim of abuse of a minor outside the archdiocese.

Anderson represents most of the 450 survivors with claims against the archdiocese in its current bankruptcy case, which is expected to be resolved by year-end with payments to victims/survivors. In his remarks Aug. 23, Anderson said that Minnesota dioceses have used bankruptcy as a way to avoid transparency about clergy sex abuse.

Archdiocesan leaders said they disagreed with his characterization.

“We were disappointed that Mr. Anderson criticized the bankruptcy process as a means of concealing the truth,” they  said in the joint statement. “There has been disclosure by the archdiocese at every stage of the bankruptcy process.

“In the past, Mr. Anderson claimed the archdiocese was concealing assets. These claims were repeatedly rejected by the judge as false. For us, bankruptcy was the only fair way to distribute assets to all who have claims, and we are pleased that we could file a joint plan with Mr. Anderson, on behalf of his clients, to provide $210 million for an equitable distribution,” they said.

“For years now, the archdiocese has worked cooperatively with Jeff Anderson’s office to continue disclosing the names of priests with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor, as they come to our attention,” the statement continued. “That process remains ongoing.”

In the past eight months, Anderson has said that the archdiocese is the “safest archdiocese in the country” and the “cleanest archdiocese in the country.” He did not respond to The Catholic Spirit’s request for clarification of accusations against the archdiocese and its bishops he made during the press conference.

Unlike in Pennsylvania, where the state’s attorney general is authorized to commission a grand jury investigation, a similar investigation in Minnesota could only be called jointly by every county attorney, or by the governor, Anderson said.

Following Anderson’s press conference, Caroline Burns, Dayton’s press secretary, released a statement: “The governor has not received such a request before. Therefore, his office is first researching for any precedents and then analyzing the statutory authority on this matter. We will respond as soon as those reviews are completed.”

Among the Pennsylvania grand jury’s recommendations was to “create a two-year ‘civil window’ for child sex abuse victims who couldn’t file lawsuits before.” In 2013, the Minnesota State Legislature lifted the statute of limitations for three years for sexual abuse victims/survivors to file civil suits.

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