Archdiocese shares child protection experience with law enforcement, child advocates

| May 4, 2017 | 0 Comments

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has taken strides to protect children in its care from abuse, but there’s still more work to do, its director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment said at a conference on protecting children April 25.

“We’ve set the stage for some meaningful change. What we need to do is not lose that momentum,” Tim O’Malley told an audience of experts in law enforcement, child advocacy, social work and tribal leadership.

O’Malley and Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment Assistant Director Michael Campion presented on the archdiocese’s efforts in a plenary session titled “Child Sexual Abuse in the Church” at the 12th annual Crimes Against Children in Indian Country Conference. They outlined the history and prevalence of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the U.S. and the archdiocese, and explained how the archdiocese has worked to implement new policies to protect children and reach out to victims.

An initiative of the National Criminal Justice Training Center at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin, the three-day conference was held at Black Bear Casino and Resort in Carlton, Minnesota. It was emceed by Janell Rasmussen, deputy director of the Office of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment. She worked for Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension before joining the archdiocese, and she was involved with establishing the conference in the state.

“I thought that it would be a good opportunity for Tim and Michael to come here and share the work that they’ve done,” she said, because of the relevancy of the issues and because they could serve as resources.

This event was the first time archdiocesan leaders had presented their work publicly to law enforcement.

“I don’t think people realize the significant work that has been done in the [archdiocese’s Office for the Protection of Children and Youth] and the standards that have been set, the policies that have been put into place, [including] the Essential Three,” she said. “The procedures that we do as daily business, other people wouldn’t even think about taking all of those steps with youth in their organizations, so I think we’ve really gone above and beyond in what we’re doing to protect kids, and I think it’s good for other people to see that and learn from it.”

The archdiocese was among the conference’s 13 sponsors, which included the Minnesota BCA, the Department of Justice and Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety.

Seeing the archdiocese’s crest pictured alongside logos for state and federal law enforcement agencies signified the partnership between law enforcement and the archdiocese that O’Malley and Rasmussen have worked to establish, they said.

In his presentation, O’Malley identified two themes that have emerged from his office’s work: First, that there is no singular solution to protecting children, and second, that cooperation among leadership in the Church, community and law enforcement is key.

He also emphasized the law enforcement backgrounds of his office’s top three positions. Before joining the archdiocese, he had served as deputy chief judge of the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings and as BCA superintendent. Campion also served as BCA superintendent and as the state public safety commissioner.

Campion underscored the benefits of the Ministerial Review Board, a group composed mostly of laypeople, including non-Catholics such as Patty Wetterling.

“There is not a decision made in regards to a priest or cleric and that person’s fitness for ministry that does not go before a civilian review board,” he said, adding that the board has reviewed about 85 cases since 2015.

While police investigate criminal accusations against priests and others who may be serving in the archdiocese, the Church has a higher bar for a person’s fitness for ministry than whether he or she did something illegal. Campion said the archdiocese has given his office “every opportunity to turn any stone” in its internal investigations.

O’Malley recounted a recent visit to a school where a girl felt uncomfortable because of an interaction with an adult. His office determined that it was a misunderstanding, but it affirmed the school’s decision to contact his office. He praised its leaders for having an environment in which the girl felt she could tell someone, and that her friends, teachers and school leadership listened and took prompt action.

“Our goal isn’t to say nothing ever happens,” he said. Rather, the goal for people working and volunteering in the Church is to be prepared and care, “so when something happens, we do what’s right.”

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