New ombudsperson for abuse survivors has heart for helping others heal

| May 19, 2020 | 0 Comments
Victoria Johnson, an attorney and parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis, has been selected to replace her husband, Tom Johnson, as ombudsperson for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. COURTESY VICTORIA JOHNSON

Victoria Johnson, an attorney and parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis, has been selected to replace her husband, Tom Johnson, as ombudsperson for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. HUNTER JOHNSON  |. COURTESY VICTORIA JOHNSON

Tom Johnson is stepping down from his role as ombudsperson for clergy sex abuse victim-survivors, but someone who knows the work well is taking the helm — his wife, Victoria Johnson.

Like Tom, Victoria is a lawyer who has worked with victims of injustice, and both personal and professional experiences have given her a heart for people in need of healing. She said that the invitation to assume the role first felt “out of the blue,” but, as people whom she trusted encouraged her to take it, she realized it was something she wanted to take on.

“Justice and healing are very important to me,” Victoria said. “I got started as a prosecutor, and I saw victims who were harmed and the fallout from that. And I think clergy abuse goes even deeper, because these are people who are supposed to be your protectors. There’s a ripple effect to that harm into their own families and into the community, and I just feel so strongly that they need somebody there to be able to listen to them.”

A 1971 graduate of Convent of the Visitation in Mendota Heights, Victoria earned a degree in psychology and sociology from York University in Toronto before earning a law degree at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul in 1979. She then worked as an assistant county attorney for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.

In 1981, she entered private practice in St. Paul, before becoming the associate director at Learning Law and Democracy in St. Paul, a civics education organization, where she worked from 1998 to 2008. Then, in 2010, she began freelance consulting work that she continues today.

From 2012 to 2014, Victoria worked as parish administrator at her parish, Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis, alongside its pastor, Father Daniel Griffith. Her work coincided with his time as the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Delegate for Safe Environment. Although Victoria wasn’t involved in confidential matters related to that role, Father Griffith sought her wise counsel, he said, describing her as “a person of deep faith and abundant talent” with a strong moral compass.

“I think Victoria is an inspired choice to continue the work that Tom began,” he said. “Victoria and Tom share many of the same qualities, including a keen sense of justice, prudence and compassion for those who have suffered harm, including victims of clergy abuse.”

As Victoria assumes the ombudsperson role, helping victim-survivors find healing is paramount, she said. She expects to draw from her own experience finding healing from an abortion she had at age 16 and her involvement in Rachel’s Vineyard Twin Cities, a retreat ministry for men and women affected by abortion.

Fe Mahler, Rachel’s Vineyard Twin Cities president and board chair, said that with Victoria’s professional and personal experience, as well as her compassion and insight, she’s “the perfect person to carry that torch” as the new ombudsperson.

A former three-term Hennepin County attorney before going into private practice, Tom Johnson was named the first ombudsperson to the archdiocese, a volunteer position created in a 2015 settlement agreement between the archdiocese and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office on civil charges that the county had filed alleging the archdiocese had failed to protect children in a clergy sex abuse case.

Selected jointly because of his extensive experience in child advocacy by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Tim O’Malley, the archdiocese’s director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment, Tom Johnson assumed the role in 2018. He has been a resource for people who have Church-related sexual abuse claims but who don’t want to communicate directly with a clergy member or Church official, or have concerns about how the archdiocese is addressing their claim.

When Tom Johnson took the role, he had been diagnosed with cancer but he felt well enough to begin the work. The cancer has since progressed.

In an email to the archdiocese shared with The Catholic Spirit, Tom said he was honored to be chosen for the ombudsperson role “and to be a small part of exciting and profound changes in how the (archdiocese) sees its role relative to victim-survivors.”

“The opportunity to observe this up-close was exhilarating,” he said. “New people brought new leadership, new approaches, new policies and more transparency. The response to clerical sexual abuse became much more centered on the victim-survivors, as it should be.”

As to Victoria stepping into his shoes, he said he is “delighted” she is succeeding him.

“She certainly knows how I’ve approached the responsibilities of the position. And she will undoubtedly want to make some changes, which is exactly what should happen,” he said. “For Victoria, helping people recognize they need healing, and then helping them through the process, is hugely important. It’s a deep and heart-felt commitment. Victim-survivors will be very well served.”

Victoria Johnson can be contacted at victorianewcomejohnson@gmail.com or (612) 990-0022.

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