Law professor overseeing implementation of task force’s recommendations

| April 25, 2014 | 0 Comments

The man appointed last fall to oversee all issues related to clergy sexual misconduct in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is now focusing on implementing the recommendations of a newly released report aimed at improving the archdiocese’s safe environment program and ability to protect children.

“At this point, it’s my task to go over it, look at the recommendations and determine how best to execute them in conformity with civil and [church] law,” said Dominican Father Reginald Whitt, a University of St. Thomas law professor appointed last October by Archbishop John Nienstedt as the episcopal vicar for ministerial standards.

The report and recommendations from the independent Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force were released April 14. The task force was created last fall to review the archdiocese’s policies and practices related to clergy sexual misconduct following a series of media reports critical of the archdiocese for its handling of some accusations against clergy.

While the report by the task force noted the archdiocese’s diligence in adopting policies and procedures to protect children, it noted those policies and procedures were not always followed. It also included recommendations to address “serious shortcomings” in how the archdiocese has implemented the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

Comprehensive work

Archbishop John Nienstedt previously pledged to accept the task force’s recommendations.

“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 — as well as other members of the community.

Father Whitt said he seeks to implement the task force’s recommendations “both efficiently and effectively.”

The report “shows a good deal of research, hard work and hard thinking on their part,” he said. “They didn’t hold anything back. It’s a very candid report. It’s very frank.”

Task force history

Father Whitt 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.

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.”

To read the full report, visit archspm.org and click on “Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force Report and Recommendations.”

 

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