Judge: ‘Good progress has been made so far’ in archdiocese’s safe environment practices

| January 11, 2019 | 0 Comments

A Ramsey Court judge affirmed Jan. 10 the steps the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has taken since 2015 to enhance its safe environment efforts, and she emphasized that it must continue after the period of court oversight ends next year.

“Thus far, progress has been made, but it can’t stop in 10-years time,” said Judge Teresa Warner during a Jan. 10 hearing at the Ramsey County Courthouse in St. Paul.

She said the goal of the archdiocese’s December 2015 settlement agreement with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office was to “change the culture” of the archdiocese, and she wanted assurance that was being achieved.

Tim O’Malley, archdiocesan director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment, said the archdiocese’s work goes beyond meeting settlement requirements to “the spirit of the settlement” to creating and maintaining a culture that ensures the safety of future generations from clergy sexual abuse.

“It’s embedding the practices so that our grandchildren will have them in place,” he said. “It’s not just checking boxes.”

The hearing was the sixth since the archdiocese entered into the settlement agreement with Ramsey County on civil charges the county had filed against it earlier that year.

In June 2015, Ramsey County filed civil and criminal charges against the archdiocese for failing to protect children in the case of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer, who abused three brothers in 2010-2011 while he was assigned to Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul. In July 2016, Ramsey County dismissed the criminal charges and amended the settlement agreement. Among the settlement’s requirements is Ramsey County’s oversight of the archdiocese’s safe environment efforts until 2020.

As part of the agreement, the archdiocese has filed a report with the court every six months on its compliance with the settlement agreement. Like the earlier reports, this report demonstrated that the archdiocese is in “substantial compliance” with the agreement.

Archdiocesan leaders also submitted the results of an external audit conducted this fall by Rochester, New York-based Stonebridge  Business Partners. The audit is the second external audit the archdiocese has undergone on its compliance with the settlement agreement.

Like the previous audit, which Stonebridge completed in 2017, this year’s external audit also found the archdiocese in substantial compliance with the agreement.

The progress report and external audit examined the archdiocese’s safe environment policies and procedures. Both the internal report and external audit are available at archspm.org.

The progress report noted that in the past six months, the archdiocese reorganized its Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, and it continues to work with an OPCY Advisory Committee that formed earlier this year. The archdiocese also conducted 28 site visits in the fall, for a total of 44 parish and school visits in 2018. Archdiocesan leaders have also continued to work with training for seminarians; ensuring the policy compliance of clergy, employees and volunteers; and reviewing its policies around VIRTUS training, its training model for identifying indicators of sexual abuse.

The archdiocese also reported that archdiocesan leaders and representatives of the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office are working together to organize a conference on restorative justice, an initiative the settlement agreement required to take place within 18 months after the archdiocese was discharged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy discharge was formalized Dec. 21.

During the hearing, O’Malley testified that the archdiocese has seen an increase in involvement from lay people, including abuse survivors, in shaping its safe environment efforts. “I think that’s a very healthy indicator for long-term change,” he said.

Thomas Ring, Ramsey County assistant attorney, testified that the archdiocese is in regular communication with his office, and that he’s observed “something more robust than compliance.”

“Things, we believe, are getting better,” he said.

Warner noted that the archdiocese is under the county’s oversight for one more year, “and a year isn’t a long time.”

“Good progress has been made so far, but there’s still more work to do,” she said.

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