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Pastor calls for 'fresh start in leadership' for Catholic archdiocese over sex abuse cases

The pastor of a large, conservative North St. Paul Catholic parish has called for “a fresh start in leadership” in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in the wake of recent revelations about the scope and severity of sex abuses cases here.

Fr. Bill Deziel

“These accounts of priest abuse, and misconduct are disturbing, yet even more disturbing to many of the faithful is the apparent lack of good judgment and common sense on the part of our archdiocesan leaders to deal with the offending priests,” Father Bill Deziel wrote Sunday in the parish weekly bulletin (PDF).

“Things can’t seem to be more twisted and out of hand,” he added. “It leaves us all crying foul and I share the frustration and outrage that many of you have expressed.”

The archdiocese, asked about Deziel's comments, said it was unable to comment immediately on the matter.

Deziel also did not immediately respond to an interview request from MinnPost, but several parishioners at the Church of St. Peter said they applauded the strongly worded letter and sermons in which the abuse scandal was also mentioned.

“All I can say is I think he hit the nail on the head,” said Bill Sonntag, a member of both St. Peter and St. Pius in White Bear Lake. “I feel an absolute sadness that he has that this is going on.”

Pastor calls for release of list

Deziel also called for the release of the list of 33 priests the archdiocese believes have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children. “If it is not, it leaves all of us wondering who these men are, and which priests may be threats to our children and young people,” he wrote. “Other dioceses including Chicago, Los Angeles, Tucson and Baltimore have done this and it’s time for us to do so as well.”

The pastor also asked for the opening of a “vault” in the chancery offices that contains files on priests. “All of the files should be examined by competent independent authorities who can make decisions as to which files contain potentially criminal behavior and which do not,” Deziel wrote. “The findings of this investigation should be made public and charges filed if necessary.”

Acknowledging that he was calling for “dramatic” steps, Deziel cautioned that without fundamental change the archdiocese might be considered “downright bankrupt” for years.

“Third,” he wrote, “it may be time for a do over with our archdiocesan leadership. This is not to say that our leaders have not done their best to serve us in these matters and others. They have served admirably in many powerful ways, but when things get this bad, sometimes a fresh start is needed for all involved. A fresh start in leadership could get us moving forward again with all that Christ calls us to do.”

“I’m glad he said something — it’s the elephant in the room,” said parishioner Sonntag. “There are definitely more empty pews and I think it’s because people lose faith in [church] leadership and they stop going.”

Range of reactions

Sonntag was one of two parish members who said they feel terrible for clergy who are not involved in the scandal but who likely feel tarnished nonetheless.

“It’s got to be hard to be a man of the cloth with this going on,” said Marv Koppen, another parish member. “The vast majority are really good people.”

Not every parishioner agrees with the pastor's comments. One man who asked not to be named because of the issue's divisive nature, said, “I think he went a little too far. No one was overly upset, but it was definitely a topic of discussion after mass.”

Like many, he waited until after services to share his thoughts with Deziel. He was concerned, he said in an interview Monday, that some of the allegations circulating in recent news accounts may be inflated or exaggerated. He said he knew one of the accused and doubts the claims.

Since the weekend, Deziel's comments have gone viral among Catholics who have been critical of the archdiocese’s policies in a number of arenas. Several who contacted MinnPost were careful to point out that while Deziel’s reputation is that of a middle-of-the-road straight shooter, St. Peter is generally regarded as a conservative parish.

The church’s website still contains a Marriage and Family Committee page urging the faithful to vote in favor of the proposed 2012 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Audio of an appearance by University of St. Thomas law professor Teresa Collett, who spoke widely in favor of the amendment, is still available.

“I think it’s wonderful that he spoke up,” said Bob Duetel, a member of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform. “I think it’s pretty bold. I hope more of his brother priests speak up.”

The missive makes Deziel the second priest in the archdiocese to call for Archbishop John Nienstedt’s resignation. The first, the controversial and outspoken Michael Tegeder, called for Nienstedt to step down last year during the church’s campaign in favor of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

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Comments (17)

A Nit to Pick

St. Pius was apparently pious, but he went by the name of Pius, not Pious. If I recall correctly, misspelling the pope's name is not a venial sin but rather merely an occasion of sin.

Thanks

Thanks, Tom. We corrected the spelling.

a "Fresh Start"?

I think that's basically the same thing Tom Petters asked the court for earlier this week.

“I think he went a little too far."

I understand the desire to have this 'cleaned-up once and for all' but the reality is that this is not a black/white situation. It will take time to avoid harming the innocent and appropriately address the needs of those who are injured. Efforts to act humanely and fairly will take time. Sorry, life is complicated.

Harming the innocent

The Catholic church had shown decades of indifference to avoiding harming the truly innocent - the children who have had their lives destroyed at the hands of predatory priests. There has been little or no concern for acting humanely and fairly by Minnesota's Catholic leadership. These people facilitated and covered up the sexual abuse of children. I can 't think of an issue that is less complicated or more black and white.

... or more of an easy mark

... or more of an easy mark for people who always have been hostile to it.

Why yes, I've been hostile to

Why yes, I've been hostile to the sexual predation of innocent children for as long as I can remember.

I am relieved to know that

I am relieved to know that you are not going to dip into Grandma's contributions from the third pew, to pay for it (assuming you are matching up the civil liability with the blame).

Civil liability

Assuming your comment is a complaint about the cost of civil lawsuits, you should want to see those files opened and people like Neinstadt removed. It is the secrecy and the cover-up of abuse that ends up costing the church so much money. I hope you aren't arguing that those victims don't deserve to be compensated.

And going back up a couple of comments, I wasn't always hostile to the Catholic Church and am still not hostile to parts of it - I think this priest is a hero (and are you saying he is hostile toward the Church?) I grew up going to Catholic mass every week. But I am unequivocally hostile to anyone who protects child abusers at the expense of children.

a 'Paddy Wagon'

If Neinstedt and the other top officials with the "lack of good judgment and common sense" were met with child endangerment warrants and a St. Paul Police Department 'Paddy Wagon' we would get the needed fresh start

Good judgement and Common Sense - An Understatement for Sure

Jennifer Haselberger, Chancellor of Canonical Affairs

"However, we also have obligations as Christians and citizens of our communities. When it
becomes a question of breaking the law or putting children at risk, I believe the need to maintain the distinction is superseded by a more powerful obligation," she said.

Fr. Kevin McDonough, a former vicar general who served as delegate for safe environment

McDonough wrote, Wehmeyer was "not all that interested in an actual sexual encounter, but rather was obtaining some stimulation by 'playing with fire.' This sort of behavior would not show up in the workplace."

Two points of view regarding “risk” of sexual abuse to children and young adults. Whose understanding and perspective are the parishioners of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul more comfortable with and trust in?

Where are other brave MN clerics?

Thanks, Fr. Bill, for your courage. There are hundreds who work for or worked for Catholic churches in MN. Where are the others who are strong enough to publicly challenge a self-serving hierarchy?

David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com

The church needs more priests like Deziel

Fr Bill Deziel asked for the opening of a “vault” in the chancery offices that contains files on priests. -- Yes, then the parishioners and the public can see just how many of “The vast majority of clergy are really good people” .

It is a bold move for a priest to stand up to his boss and say, "things need to change". It is not so much about the importance of empty pews, it is more important to protect innocent children from the life sentence of being sexually abused.

We doubt that the bishop will ever open the "vault" unless law enforcement gets involved, so let's hope that anyone who may have knowledge or may have been harmed will come forward and contact police, not the church officials. They are not the proper officials to be investigating child sex crimes.

Silence is not an options anymore, it only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.
Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511.
"SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

Amen, Judy.

Amen.

Father Deziel has taken a few steps in the right direction, but he needs to be even bolder and call for a full law enforcement investigation.

And he should support criminal charges, if an investigation warrants them, against those responsible for perpetrating these heinous acts and for those covering them up.

On the record

I think it speaks volumes that the parishioners who support Deziel's actions went on the record, while the person opposed chose to remain anonymous.

A man of integrity who would

A man of integrity who would very much like to maintain it, a Catholic priest who is not cowered by Nienstedt, speaking out for a just resolution of crimes against children? Thank God!

Silence

Evil happens when good men are silent. Now, Pope Francis needs to take action.