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Archdiocese vows to implement clergy abuse panel’s recommendations

Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis John Nienstedt pledges to improve handling of clergy abuse cases.

A task force set up by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis found serious shortcomings in the handling of clergy abuse cases. Archbishop John Nienstedt said he accepts the recommendations called for to improve the situation.

Church officials chose the task force amid serious allegations made against priests, and the way that church officials dealt with offending priests.

The archdiocese today released the Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force’s report (pdf) which list these “serious shortcomings:”

  • For many years, the Archdiocese concentrated too much power in one or two individuals to make decisions regarding allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors. These individuals were not subject to adequate oversight nor their decisions and actions subject to monitoring and audit. Processes and decisions have appeared secretive and sequestered, even if that was not the intent.
  • Communication within the Archdiocese and with the faithful, the public, the media and victims of abusive clergy about clergy secual abuse of minors has been inadequate and, at times, non-existant. Information became compartmentalized which prevented decision-makers and relevant boards from knowing all the pertinent information, including early warning sigs which could have suggested future problems.
  • The Archdiocese’s record-keeping regarding the performance and conduct of its clergy is not comprehensive or coordinated and relies on outdated systems. Among other things, facts that relate to clergy misconduct are often unavailable to decision-makers at important points in the process.
  • The Archdiocese has no meaningful compliance auditing and monitoring program to evaluate, test, and monitor compliance with policies and procedures that are designed to prevent and detect sexual abuse of minors.
  • The Archdiocese has a confusing and inadequate complaint-reporting mechanism.

And the report offered these recommendations:

  1. The Archdiocese’s Safe Environment organizational structure should be revised. There should be a single review board and the authority of this single Clergy Review Board, composed of a majority of laypeople, should be expanded to receive and review all allegations of clergy misconduct. The Delegate for Safe Environment, a lay person, should be the Archdiocese’s responsible officer to manage its response to reports of all clergy misconduct, and should support and coordinate the activities of the Clergy Review Board, the Promoter of Ministerial Standards, the Victim Advocate, and the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth. 
  2. The Archdiocese should create a comprehensive Compliance Auditing and Monitoring (CAM) Program to ensure that its entire Safe Environment Program is effective. The CAM Program should be developed with the assistance of outside consultants, and implemented by the Clergy Review Board and the Delegate for Safe Environment. The Archdiocese’s Safe Environment Program should also be subject to an annual independent external audit. 
  3. 3. The Archdiocese should develop a more effective record-keeping procedure to ensure that information related to clergy sexual misconduct is compiled, centralized and made accessible to Safe Environment decision makers. It should also formulate policies for the acceptable use of electronic devices and communication; the screening of electronic devices prior to disposal; and the retention of documents and electronically stored information. These changes will help prevent and detect violations of Archdiocesan Safe Environment policies. 
  4. The Archdiocese should strengthen and expand its mechanisms to receive complaints of clergy sexual abuse (including anonymous reporting mechanisms), utilize web-based and traditional communication methods to educate the public on reporting clergy misconduct, and protect individuals from retaliation for making complaints. 
  5. The Archdiocese should continue to look to the Saint Paul Seminary as a resource in preventing clergy sexual abuse of minors. By strengthening the candidate selection process in the Archdiocese and maintaining a robust admissions and evaluation framework, by inviting evaluation by the entire faculty (including lay faculty), and by providing adequate education on these issues for seminarians, the Saint Paul Seminary can assist with the ultimate goal of protecting children.
  6. The Archdiocese should enhance implementation of the “The Essential Three” components of its Safe Environment programming by improving its background check process, expanding its training, and updating its Codes of Conduct.

The task force members were chosen by the Rev. Reginald Whitt, the Vicar for Ministerial Standards, but operated independently of him and the archbishop, the archdiocese said.

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And the statement says: “The archdiocese will provide periodic updates on the status of implementation.”