Professionally accomplished people have been appointed to a new Minneapolis-St. Paul archdiocesan task force to look at local church abuse policies. But there are just a few things that they lack.
Most of the panel’s members are Catholic. That means they’ve been taught since birth to respect and revere priests and bishops, and consider these ordained men as “God’s representatives on earth.” Wouldn’t a tad less bias be helpful as this body does its work looking how church officials deal with abuse?
None of the task force members has identified him- or herself as having endured childhood victimization, either at the hands of a cleric or any other trusted adult authority figure. Again, wouldn’t having at least one person on this panel with that perspective be beneficial?
Many Catholics, and certainly most victims, will be highly skeptical of a panel whose first member is a lawyer and whose first chair is a lawyer. Each panel member was chosen by Fr. Reginald Whitt, who is a lawyer himself. And Whitt was chosen by the now-embattled and widely criticized Archbishop John Nienstedt, whose actions and inaction led to the current scandal in the archdiocese. Given all this, how can people really trust this body?
Apparently, none of the appointees was on any of the numerous internal archdiocesan abuse panels that date back to the early 1990s. If this is intended to be a serious effort, why enlist all ‘rookies’ and ignore whatever lessons may have been learned by individuals who lent their time and experiences in earlier efforts like this?
However professionally accomplished and well-meaning panel members might be, they have no ability to force archdiocesan staff to turn over long-secret church documents showing how possible child sex reports are handled. Lacking subpoena power, they’ll rely on records voluntarily provided by the very same church employees who have kept silent, hidden crimes, stonewalled police, rebuffed prosecutors and repeatedly deceived parishioners. They’ve apparently been told they can interview anyone they like. But what a suspected wrongdoer verbally claims usually differs wildly from what he or she actually does.
This committee, like its predecessor, is an advisory body. It can only make recommendations to the top archdiocesan staffer, Archbishop John Nienstedt, who answers, at least theoretically, to only one person, another monarch like himself: Pope Francis. This is perhaps the most disturbing flaw in this process – fundamentally, no matter how long and hard this group works, it’s essentially powerless. Nienstedt has held, and still holds, all the cards.
And let’s be candid about Nienstedt’s track record. Ultimately, as the CEO of his archdiocese, he is responsible for the years of secrecy surrounding the sexual misdeeds (and possible crimes) of Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer and Fr. Jonathan Shelley. He appointed the board that kept quiet about child-sex-abuse allegations against Fr. Michael Keating. He tolerates – and could end — the lavish and unsupervised lifestyle of Fr. Robert Kapoun, whom a jury deemed guilty in a 1996 civil trial of molesting a boy but who now splits his time between his half-million- dollar lakeside Minnesota home and a winter home in Florida, still able to call himself a priest while being monitored by no one. He does nothing about the two recent chancery staff who took nine months to reply to a Plymouth man’s report about his perpetrator, Fr. Rudolph Henrich.
So even if this shaky panel makes responsible suggestions about children’s safety, does anyone really have confidence that the archbishop will have the courage to take decisive action to oust child-molesting clerics?
Barbara Dorris is the outreach director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She can be reached at SNAPdorris@gmail.com.
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