Task force submits report, recommendations regarding protection of children

| April 14, 2014 | 0 Comments

An independent task force created last fall to review the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ policies and practices related to clergy sexual misconduct submitted its report April 14.

While the report by the Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force notes the archdiocese’s diligence in adopting policies and procedures to protect children, it includes recommendations to address “serious shortcomings” in how the archdiocese has implemented the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

The charter is a comprehensive set of procedures established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. It includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and abuse prevention.

The archdiocese’s vicar for ministerial standards, Dominican Father Reginald Whitt, will see to the implementation of the recommendations, which Archbishop John Nienstedt has pledged to accept, according to a statement from the archdiocese.

“I thank the Task Force members for their clear, thoughtful and precise efforts,” Archbishop Nienstedt said.

“Their report reflects their obvious dedication to this work, as well as the comprehensive nature of the results,” he said. “It will guide us in fulfilling our important goals which I have stated before and repeat now: the protection of children, the healing of victims, and the restoration of trust of the faithful and of our clergy who are serving our communities with honor. We look forward to working in collaboration with Father Whitt to implement these recommendations.”

The report identified problems with the archdiocese’s safe environment organizational structure, communication, record keeping regarding the performance and conduct of clergy, compliance auditing, and complaint-reporting system.

The task force recommended that the archdiocese:

• Establish a single clergy review board composed primarily of lay people;

• Create a comprehensive “compliance auditing and monitoring program” to review the efficacy of the archdiocese’s safe environment program;

• Develop a record-keeping system that ensures information related to clergy sexual misconduct is compiled, centralized and made accessible to safe environment decision-makers;

• Strengthen and expand ways people can report abuse;

• Continue to use the St. Paul Seminary as a resource in strengthening the candidate selection process and maintaining a “robust” admissions and evaluation framework; and

• Improve the process for background checks, expand its training and update its codes of conduct.

The seven-member volunteer lay task force met 23 times, reviewed thousands of pages of documents and interviewed 32 individuals — including archdiocesan officials, parish priests, experts and advocates experienced in child abuse issues — and other members of the community.

Task force history

Archbishop Nienstedt appointed Father Whitt to oversee all issues related to clergy sexual misconduct as the new episcopal vicar for ministerial standards in October 2013 after a series of media reports criticized the archdiocese for its handling of accusations of sexual abuse of minors by its clergy.

Father Whitt, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, appointed the task force, whose members came from a variety of professional fields and operated independently of the archdiocese to ensure the integrity of its findings and recommendations. The group focused on the archdiocese’s safe environment organizational structure and its processes related to preventing and detecting abuse; it did not investigate specific allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors.

The task force had full authority and all the resources needed to complete its work, the archdiocese said in its statement. The task force completed its work March 31 and gave its report and recommendations on April 3 to Father Whitt, who suggested minor terminology corrections. Following consultation with task force members and their agreement to those corrections, he submitted the report and recommendations to the archdiocese April 11.

“I am now studying the document for the purpose of developing practicable norms, structures, and procedures that will implement the Task Force’s recommendations in conformity with civil and canon law,” Father Whitt said in an April 14 statement. “I am grateful to the Task Force members for their thorough and detailed work, which has one overarching goal: protecting children from clergy sexual abuse.”

In a separate statement, the task force said it believes its work will improve the archdiocese’s safe environment program and help protect children. It also said that members “will not be involved in press activities related to its release.”

Click here to view a copy of the full report.

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Category: Local News