From the courtroom to cooperation

| October 23, 2014 | 3 Comments

Together, victims’ attorney and archdiocese work to help those affected by clergy sexual abuse

Clergy abuse survivor Jim Keenan, center, talks about his experiences and reaction to the settlement between the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates at a press conference announcing the settlement Oct. 13 at the Landmark Center in St. Paul. Listening to Keenan's remarks are, from left, attorney  Jeff Anderson, Tim O'Malley, director of ministerial standards and safe environment for the archdiocese, Bishop Andrew Cozzens and Father Charles Lachowitzer, vicar general for the archdiocese. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Clergy abuse survivor Jim Keenan, center, talks about his experiences and reaction to the settlement between the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates at a press conference announcing the settlement Oct. 13 at the Landmark Center in St. Paul. Listening to Keenan’s remarks are, from left, attorney Jeff Anderson, Tim O’Malley, director of ministerial standards and safe environment for the archdiocese, Bishop Andrew Cozzens and Father Charles Lachowitzer, vicar general for the archdiocese. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Historic announcement by Jeff Anderson and Associates and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

With a historic courtroom in downtown St. Paul as the backdrop, attorney Jeff Anderson and officials from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced a settlement Oct. 13 of the first case filed under the Minnesota Child Victim Act and a history-making agreement to work together to protect children and help clergy sexual abuse victims/survivors heal.

“This is about truth, and this is about a new day; this is about a new way, this is about a safe way,” said Anderson, who has represented plaintiffs in dozens of lawsuits filed against the archdiocese during the past three decades. “It’s not just about pledges and promises. It is an action plan . . . words don’t protect kids. Actions do.”

During the press conference, a long line of survivors came forward to shake hands with Bishop Andrew Cozzens and Father Charles Lachowitzer, vicar general for the archdiocese. Anderson and Bishop Cozzens thanked survivors who made the historic agreement possible. Anderson said, “I am grateful to each of these survivors and their families and supporters that sit among us and work among us every day. This is not a day of reckoning as much as hope, as promise, as action.”

From left, Al Michaud, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, Jim Keenan and Father Charles Lachowitzer exchange handshakes and greetings during the press conference. Michaud and Keenan are clergy abuse survivors. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Al Michaud, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, Jim Keenan and Father Charles Lachowitzer exchange handshakes and greetings during the press conference. Michaud and Keenan are clergy abuse survivors. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“I hope this is a fresh start,” said Al Michaud, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse that occurred when he was a child. “We need this safe place, a welcoming place, to come forward, we need a caring path to long-term healing, a supportive environment in which to tell our stories and not be afraid.”

Michaud is not Doe 1, the plaintiff in the case that was settled involving a former priest of the Diocese of Winona, Thomas Adamson, who had assignments in the archdiocese. However, Michaud said the settlement is a sign of progress and a reason for hope.

“No longer will we be ridiculed, challenged and beaten down by the Church, because it’s no longer our enemy in this, they are our ally,” he said.

“It is never too late to do the right thing,” said survivor Jim Keenan, who has been outspoken in his calls for reform in Church handling of clergy sexual abuse and related changes in state law. “I would have never guessed I would have looked over my shoulder at one of these and see two priests.”

“We are humiliated, yet we are humbled by the grace of God to be here today,” said Father Lachowitzer. “To the survivors here and others watching and listening, thank you for the truth and courage of your stories. It is not our hand that reached out to you to help in some way, it is your hand that reached out to us. The wounded child leading us to do what is right, good and true.”

“We arrived at this place of cooperation thanks to the perseverance of survivors and their loved ones,” Bishop Cozzens said. “We are thankful for their courage in making sure that this issue is addressed openly and thoroughly and with compassion.:

Father Charles Lachowitzer hugs an abuse survivor after the press conference. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Father Charles Lachowitzer hugs an abuse survivor after the press conference. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“I am sorry,” Bishop Cozzens continued. “This never should have happened.”

Bishop Cozzens noted that the day’s events would not have been possible without leadership from Archbishop John Nienstedt, who was unable to attend because of a visit to the archdiocese’s sister diocese in Kenya.

A morning court meeting in the Doe 1 case on Oct. 13 precipitated the press conference a few hours later.

“I am deeply saddened and profoundly sorry for the pain suffered by victims, survivors and their families,” the archbishop said in a statement issued Oct. 13. “Today we take a significant step closer to achieving the goals we set nearly a year ago to protect children, to help survivors heal, and to restore trust with our clergy and faithful. I am grateful to all those on both sides of the courtroom aisle who have worked so diligently to bring about this agreement.”

Action plan to protect and heal

As part of a global settlement agreement on non-economic items, the archdiocese committed to abiding by a set of 17 child protection protocols that were developed and approved by both archdiocesan leadership and Jeff Anderson & Associates.

“The archdiocese will ensure that all archdiocesan policy from this point forward provides for at least as much protection as the protocols outline,” said Tim O’Malley, director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment for the archdiocese. O’Malley is a former state administrative law judge and previously served as superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. “These protocols will help us move forward to better days for all children, clergy and those we serve.”

The archdiocese’s appointment of O’Malley as director of ministerial standards and safe environment, and the naming of fellow former BCA head Michael Campion were among the actions Anderson cited as a path forward.

Archdiocesan leaders emphasized that cooperation with law enforcement continues.

“We are working together with police to protect children,” said O’Malley, who in addition to leading the BCA served as an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation during his long career in law enforcement. “I believe we have struck the right balance of protecting children and ensuring fairness.”

Under the Minnesota Child Victim Act, passed in 2013, lawmakers eliminated the civil statute of limitations for cases of past child sexual abuse, allowing anyone with a claim of abuse to file lawsuits for a three-year period regardless of how far back their claims date and regardless of whether the alleged abuser is deceased.

Part of the Doe 1 settlement was an agreement to disclose additional names of men with substantiated claims of committing clergy sexual abuse. (See the disclosure list on page 4.) Staff from Jeff Anderson and Associates & the archdiocese cooperated in the development of this list.

Simple phone call signals profound shift

The Oct. 13 announcement followed several months of negotiations that began when Charlie Rogers, an attorney with the Minneapolis firm of Briggs and Morgan, called Jeff Anderson in July.

“I told him that I was calling him at the behest of the archbishop, to extend the hand of goodwill and engage in dialogue aimed toward resolution of claims rather than confrontation,” Rogers said. Rogers added that while Anderson was surprised at the phone call, “he was pleased to hear from me and welcomed a meeting.”

The archbishop literally gave his blessing to the negotiations, saying a short prayer over Rogers before his initial meeting with Anderson. The dialogue that Anderson and Rogers developed over the coming weeks resulted in bringing others from the archdiocese into conversation about how to best move forward with the mutual goals of helping victims/survivors heal and protecting the young and the vulnerable.

A key understanding was that through cooperation, protracted legal actions could be avoided, preserving more resources for victims/survivors to help them in healing. While the archdiocese has long provided support for counseling for those harmed by clergy sexual abuse, additional assistance in the form of financial settlements might be needed for victims/survivors to move forward with their lives.

Rogers and his team intend to use all available options to negotiate a resolution that won’t require a financial reorganization of the archdiocese’s chancery corporation. But if the number and financial amount of claims necessitate a reorganization, the archdiocese wants to ensure the maximum amount of resources would go to victims/survivors.

“Because of the relationship we’ve been able to forge with Jeff Anderson, we’re hopeful that the proceeding may not carry on for as long as others have and perhaps not be as burdensome,” Rogers said. “It’s important we get this resolved, but that we never forget the suffering of these victims.”

“We are committed to doing the right thing for victims/survivors and their families,” said Archbishop Nienstedt. “We are moving forward from an adversarial relationship to one of reconciliation and healing; healing for victims and survivors and their loved ones, and healing for our local Church.’’

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  • John

    The secular world tries to destroy the Church again and the Church gives in. So sad.
    I wonder if the State goes after their own employees whose cases are far greater than the churches. Cash cow for attorneys and clients.

  • Terry Johnson

    This settlement is good, especially for the St. Paul Archdiocese. What I do not see is what the American Catholic Church in general is doing to correct the brotherhood of priests and their penchant for covering up and muteness regarding priestly wrongdoing. That was and still is prevalent in our Spokane Diocese. What has been done to change the seminaries, where this cancer has its genesis?

    • Jack Stephens

      Terry,

      The seminaries around the United States, and most certainly St. Paul, have improved for the better over recent years. We are seeing these cases of abuse coming from priests that went through seminary formation, unfortunately, during a time where seminaries were lacking proper formation.

      As a Church, all we can ask for is forgiveness for past offenses, but you can be certain that the formation of future priests is not the same as it was even 10 or 15 years ago. Please consider taking time to look up information on both our seminaries here in St. Paul; you will not have difficulty finding all the good things taking place there.

      Pax et Bonum.