Holding Church Shepherds Accountable
By the New York Times Editorial Board
July 17, 2014
When Pope Francis met earlier this month with victims of rape and sexual abuse by priests, he vowed to hold bishops accountable for covering up the scandal instead of confronting it.
A good place to start is with the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese, where calls are mounting for the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt, a warrior against same-sex marriage who, it turns out, is facing accusations that he indulged in improper sexual conduct in the past with priests, seminarians and other men.
The archbishop has denied the accusations as “entirely false,” saying they date back over 10 years and do not involve minors or criminal conduct. But he felt obliged to hire a law firm to investigate them.
Meanwhile, his handling of the pedophilia scandal is under fire from all sides. This week, an affidavit from Jennifer Haselberger, the former canon law chancellor for the archdiocese, accused the archbishop and his ranking prelates of systematically ignoring warnings about abusers in a five-year period, while failing to inform civil authorities of possible criminal acts.
In the affidavit made public Tuesday, Ms. Haselberger, who resigned last year, said every time she tried to warn the archbishop and his deputies about abusive priests who were still serving in parishes, her “concerns were ignored, dismissed, or the emphasis was shifted to what was best for the priest involved.”
Ms. Haselberger wrote that she “abandoned hope that this situation could be resolved by the present administration,” in her rebuttal to the claims of the archdiocese that it had met its responsibility to protect children from rogue priests.
Archbishop Nienstedt acknowledged earlier this year in a sworn deposition for a pedophilia lawsuit that he did not fully disclose to police or parishioners which priests were under suspicion. But the archdiocese insists reforms have since strengthened disclosure.
The situation was only worsened by another deposition from a former vicar general of the archdiocese, the Rev. Peter Laird, who in conferences last year with Archbishop Nienstedt twice suggested that the archbishop consider resigning. Concerned Catholic parishioners, individual clergy members and university professors have also called for the archbishop to resign as the best solution. Instead, the archdiocese has made a mockery of accountability.
Hundreds of American priests have been forced from service because of pedophile crimes, but the parallel need for accountability among those who covered up the scandal has been shamefully avoided. In promising closer attention to this issue, the pope should not overlook the church’s leadership disarray in the Twin Cities.