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Just a few things lacking in archdiocesan task force

cathedral of st. paul
Fundamentally, no matter how long and hard the task force works, it’s essentially powerless.

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.


Barbara Doris

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?

Victim’s viewpoint

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?

Historical perspective

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?

Subpoena power

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.

Decision-making authority

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


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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Tim Walker on 10/30/2013 - 07:39 am.

    Amen, Barbara


    The RCC remains oblivious to reality.

    Criminally oblivious.

    I think it’s time for St. Paul prosecutors to get a warrant and do a raid of the Archdiocese offices.

  2. Submitted by Bob Schwiderski on 10/30/2013 - 08:15 am.

    Well stated Barbara Dorris,

    It’s time for grand jury investigations, subpoenas, and search warrants looking at the child endangerment activities of the Archdiocese of St Paul & Minneapolis. The archdiocese is within the jurisdictions of 12 Minnesota counties, 5 District Courts, and a multitude of cities with reports of clergy sexual abuse

  3. Submitted by Michael Skiendzielewski on 10/30/2013 - 11:15 am.

    “Review Board” (3) or “REVIEW BORED”

    Nothing to worry about, though. We currently have THREE review boards now in place at the archdiocese. (1) Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force (2) Clergy Review Board (3) Ministerial Standards Board. I’m sure they’ll get to the bottom of this.

    While these august boards ready for their challenges, the Twin Cities Catholic faithful can rest assured that archdiocesan focus re child protection has changed not a whit. To wit, the following is offered:

    Rev. Reginald Whitt, professor of canon law at University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis – Director of Task Force, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

    “Canon law is very eloquent on what a bishop is supposed to do, but there is no list of Thou Shalt Nots,” says Father Reginald Whitt (2002). “These (sex abusers) are criminals, but they are our criminals and we can’t lose them. Indeed, the bishops have a duty to try to save them,” says the Rev. Reginald Whitt, professor of canon law at University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. (2002)

    “……BISHOPS HAVE A DUTY TO TRY TO SAVE THEM (sex abuser priests)…..” Well, Fr. Whitt, where is it written (no, not in text or canon law…….it is written in one’s heart and soul) that the bishops have a duty to try to save the CHILDREN ABUSED and INNOCENT CHILDREN from the risk of abuse?

    Seems like little has changed since these issues were studied over a decade ago by during the Dallas Charter Charade of the USCCB.

    Father Whitt has a degree in canon law and civil law. Which perspective will take prominence and priority when he reviews the findings of the task force committee he established to review the debacle in the archdiocese? It is humanly, ethically and morally IMPOSSIBLE to avoid/resolve the conflicts of interest from both perspectives (civil and canon law) when attempting to review and support the rights of priests vs the rights of child victims.

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Captain (retired)
    Philadelphia Police Dept.

  4. Submitted by Judy Jones on 10/30/2013 - 12:03 pm.

    We can’t count on Pope…

    Like Enron, these church officials need to be investigated by law enforcement, and those responsible need to be jailed. Not one bishop is behind bars for enabling and empowering child predators to abuse more children.

    And we can not count on Pope Francis to take any decisive actions to protect kids from being sexually abused. He has not removed or demoted one bishop for covering up these sex crimes. Not even KC Bishop Finn, who is a convicted criminal and who still has his power and is still running the KC-St Joe diocese today.

    The St Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese is not unique in how they handle child sex abuse crimes.
    Sex abuse thrives in secrecy and secret systems that allow it to continue to this day, 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)

  5. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/30/2013 - 12:38 pm.

    Pass The Popcorn

    I’m not sure which is the more fascinating train wreck to watch: the Catholic church, the GOP, or the Vikings. No matter which one you pick, they’re all fumbling balls left and right.

  6. Submitted by rolf westgard on 10/30/2013 - 01:26 pm.

    Pass the Popcorn

    Best letter yet!

  7. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 10/30/2013 - 10:13 pm.

    Who investigates Congress?

    Panels of congressman of course. Who investigates our local law enforcement officers? Panels of law enforcement officers of course.

    Fortunately the Catholic Church is always in the media crosshairs and the recent lawsuits will keep up that emphasis. This should help reduce the child abuse problem within the Catholic Church.

    What is being done about the abuse in the rest of our society? It is in our schools and homes and extracurricular activities. Once we are done with the Church, let’s not forget about the other 99+% of our children. Let’s halt the creation of abusers.

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