MN - Archbishop's panel is just PR

For immediate release: Sunday, Oct. 6

Statement by Bob Schwiderski of Wayzata, Minnesota SNAP director (952 471 3422,

Nienstadt is using a pathetic public relations maneuver to distract and mollify outraged parishioners – the creation of a new panel to look at church abuse guidelines. It’s probably a smart PR move. But it won’t help protect kids or expose complicity.

The behavior of church officials, not their policies and procedures, is the problem. And no words on paper will change the self-serving, secretive and recklessness of top Catholic officials. Only public exposure and harsh punishment can do this.

There are several problems here.

First, no panel is "independent" if it's head is appointed by the suspected wrongdoer it is supposed to examine.

Second, no priest has the expertise or independence to do this job well. (Fr. Whitt may have tons of training in church theology or history of music. We doubt he has tons of training in child protection.)

Third, remember, Nienstadt already has an abuse panel. It's been around for at least a decade. And it's the panel that has done nothing while top archdiocesan officials hid the sex crimes and misconduct of Fr. Shelley and Fr. Wehmeyer (and likely others). It’s the panel that remains silent even now. And it's the panel that Nienstadt and his predecessors have repeatedly called "independent."

And like this old panel, the new one will be composed of people hand-picked by top church officials.

Fourth, the task force, Nienstadt says today “will convene this week.” That suggests it has already been appointed. Either way, there will obviously be no public input into the membership or the parameters of this task force. So once again, it’s a largely secretive, top down approach.

We predict members of the task force will have impressive resumes. This has been true of every such task force appointed in every Catholic institution where alarming cover ups have been exposed and caused the creation of such task forces.

But that doesn’t change the fundamental reality that all decision making authority will continue to rest in the rigid, secretive, all-male monarchy that always has and always will run the Catholic church.

You can wax a car and tune up its engine every single day. But if drunks keep driving it, people will keep getting hurt.

Finally, the archbishop neglects to mention that Fr. Whitt is a lawyer. So his appointment continues the long pattern of top Catholic officials turning to lawyers and public relations professionals for guidance in clergy sex abuse and cover up scandals.

Given all of this, it’s foolish to expect anything but “window dressing” from this panel.

Here's how this ends: Months from now, this panel will recommend tweaking the church's never-enforced abuse guidelines. Nienstadt will issue a vague apology and make a big PR spectacle of accepting every recommendation. Then, public attention will fade and everything will go back to normal. And in two or three or four years, another Fr. Shelley or Fr. Wehmeyer scandal will emerge, and the process will repeat itself.

It’s a grave disservice to Twin Cities kids, families, Catholics and citizens if we allow this to happen.

Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell,, Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell,, Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747,

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