To put this issue in the proper historical perspective, let me disclose something about the editorial policies of Catholic World News. When I first began the service, back in 1996, I treated any credible report of clerical abuse as an important story, and a lawsuit against a Catholic diocese was top-headline material. Twenty years later, new charges of priestly abuse and new lawsuits against Catholic dioceses have become so commonplace that they barely merit a mention. Even diocesan bankruptcy filings and multi-million-dollar settlements, and the parish closings that follow, command only a quick story at the bottom of our daily headline menu. The editorial bar is now set much higher at CWN; only the most sensational stories receive top billing. But it is important to bear in mind that the lesser revelations—the stories that might have generated shocking headlines in 1996—keep dribbling out, week after week. The massive hemorrhage of episcopal credibility occurred in 2002, but since that time the bleeding has never entirely stopped.
This week’s revelation breaks new ground because for the first time, critics of the Church have solid “smoking gun” evidence that the Vatican—or at least someone fully authorized to represent the Vatican in the US—smothered an inquiry into a prelate’s behavior. Since Archbishop Vigano was acting on behalf of the Holy See, it is not unreasonable to assume that senior Vatican officials approved of his action, and perhaps even ordered it. So this case raises new questions about the commitment of the Vatican to root out corruption in the episcopate. Nor can those questions be finessed by saying that Pope Francis has brought a new dedication to the cause of reform; this case arose in 2014, during the current pontificate.
Read only a few of the documents made public yesterday in Minnesota, and you are forced toward one of two possible conclusions. Either Archbishop John Nienstedt was guilty of gross misconduct, and unfit for his office; or he was the target of a organized campaign of slander, designed to silence his opposition to the gay-rights movement. One way or another, the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis was (or is) in grave danger. Wasn’t it imperative to know the facts, fully understand the problem, and excise the cancer?
Don’t the faithful the right to know what has happened, to cause so much distress within the Church they love? If Archbishop Nienstedt is guilty, he should be denounced—not allowed to negotiate a quiet withdrawal and then treated with the respect customarily accorded to a retired prelate. If he has been unjustly accused, then the slanderers should be exposed and denounced; the archbishop should stay and his accusers should go. Instead the former nuncio arranged a solution that has left everyone with questions and doubts.
Questions and doubts: these are the enemies of credibility. Important as it is to establish the guilt or innocence of Archbishop John Nienstedt, for my present purposes it is more important that the papal nuncio chose to set a higher priority on public appearances than on exposing the truth. Evidently he thought that he could avoid a broader scandal by negotiating the early exit of Archbishop Nienstedt. But of course he did not avoid the broader scandal; he only postponed and enlarged it. How many lessons will be needed before the point finally sinks in: the cover-up is worse than the crime!
The Catholic hierarchy—and yes, that includes the Vatican—cannot regain public trust without demonstrating a willingness to pursue and expose the truth about clerical misconduct. New policies and procedures will never erase doubts, unless they are implemented by Church leaders in whom the public has complete confidence. And the public will not, and should not, place that sort of trust in leaders who slough off the critical questions, and place all their trust on the lawyerly multiplication of policies and procedures.
Another personal story: Back in the early 1990s, as the first stories of clerical abuse began to crop up in the news, a Catholic radio-show host asked me how important the story was—fully expecting, I’m sure, that I would say the reports had been overblown. I replied instead that I feared this would be the greatest crisis for Catholicism since the Reformation.
The Reformation was a response to real abuses within the Catholic Church, and the Council of Trent eventually moved to end those abuses. The sex-abuse problem has laid bare another scandal: the existence of a complacent clerical culture, protected by a complacent episcopate, unresponsive to the needs of the laity. The only way to eliminate the scandal entirely is by a thorough reform of the Catholic clergy. Unfortunately, as a group the clergy—bishops included—have not yet recognized the need for that reform.
Update:This article has been revised to include a response from the Vatican that was received after the article’s initial publication.<
The Vatican’s former ambassador to the United States quashed an independent investigation in 2014 into sexual and possible criminal misconduct by Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis and ordered church officials to destroy a letter they wrote to him protesting the decision, according to a memo made public on Wednesday.
The detailed memo was written by an outraged priest, the Rev. Dan Griffith, who was working in the top ranks of the archdiocese and was the liaison to the lawyers conducting the inquiry. He wrote that the ambassador’s order to call off the investigation and destroy evidence amounted to “a good old fashioned cover-up to preserve power and avoid scandal.”
The document offers a grave indictment of the conduct of the Vatican’s ambassador, and will probably put pressure on Pope Francis to discipline him and Archbishop Nienstedt. The former ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, served as Pope Francis’ representative to the church until he retired in April.
With sexual abuse victims clamoring for Francis to take action against negligent bishops, the pope recently announced that an array of Vatican departments should keep bishops accountable.
“All roads of concealment and cover-up lead to Rome,” said Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who represents 350 suspected victims of clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul. He spoke at a news conference on Wednesday in which he made the memo public.
This memo, and many other documents, were made public Wednesday as the result of a legal agreement between the archdiocese and the Ramsey County attorney, John Choi.
Mr. Choi agreed to dismiss the criminal case against the archdiocese in exchange for its admission that it failed to protect three children from sexual abuse by a priest, Curtis Wehmeyer. The archdiocese and the county attorney had reached a civil settlement in December, but on Wednesday it was amended to say, “The Archdiocese failed to keep the safety and well-being of these three children ahead of protecting the interests of Curtis Wehmeyer and the Archdiocese.”
Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, who replaced Archbishop Nienstedt last year, apologized in a letter on Wednesday, and said: “I know that words alone are not enough. We must do better.”
The archdiocese agreed to an additional year of oversight of its child protection efforts by the county attorney’s office and the court, until the year 2020.
In 2012, Father Wehmeyer pleaded guilty to child molestation and possessing child pornography, and it later emerged that diocesan officials had known for years of concerns about his sexual conduct. But he was not only retained, he was promoted, in 2009, to pastor of a parish.
The case brought new scrutiny to the archdiocese and prompted other people to come forward with abuse allegations. And it led indirectly to the archdiocese’s commissioning an inquiry of its own leader, Archbishop Nienstedt.
Father Griffith’s startlingly frank 11-page memo on the history of that investigation was addressed to two bishops in the diocese: Lee A. Piché and Andrew H. Cozzens. In a brief statement released Wednesday, Father Griffith said: “My memo speaks for itself. I stand by it.” He also said he had confidence in Archbishop Hebda.
The memo states that after the investigation uncovered embarrassing evidence about the archbishop, the pope’s representative in Washington ordered it cut short. It says that when bishops sent a letter objecting to that decision, the nuncio told them to destroy the letter. Father Griffith said in his memo that “destruction of evidence is a crime under federal law and state law.”
In February 2014, the archdiocese hired an outside law firm, Greene Espel, to investigate Archbishop Nienstedt. The existence of the investigation did not become public until July 2014, after it ended, and the memo was written a few days later.
The purpose of the inquiry, the memo said, was to investigate allegations of sex and sexual harassment by the archbishop, primarily with other priests or seminarians. But it was also to look into what the memo depicts as a close relationship with Father Wehmeyer, “which may have affected his judgment regarding Wehmeyer’s past misconduct.”
“Given the significant judgment errors in the Wehmeyer case, I believed this to be one of the most serious issues of the investigation, a conclusion also reached by our investigators,” the memo says.
The Greene Espel lawyers took affidavits from 11 credible witnesses who had known the archbishop, the memo said, containing evidence of “sexual misconduct; sexual harassment; reprisals in response to the rejection of unwelcome advances.” The lawyers “stated they had at least 24 more leads to pursue.”
The memo also said that many of the witnesses mentioned that Archbishop Nienstedt may have had sexual relations with a Swiss Guardsman in Rome.
Efforts to reach Archbishop Nienstedt were unsuccessful.
Bishops Piché and Cozzens, with Archbishop Nienstedt, traveled to Washington in April 2014 to discuss the initial findings with the papal nuncio, Archbishop Viganò. The memo offers the first account of what took place in that meeting to be made public, albeit secondhand, because the memo’s author was not present. The nuncio “ordered you to have the lawyers quickly interview Archbishop Nienstedt and wrap up the investigation,” it says. “The nuncio said that the lawyers were not to pursue any further leads.”
A spokesman for the Vatican, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in an interview on Thursday, “This is a very complex issue and we need more information before we can make any comment.”
Father Lombardi said it was too soon to know whether the new Vatican protocols for judging bishops accused of negligence would apply to Archbishops Viganò or Nienstedt.
The Catholic Church in Scotland has indicated that they will help in the fight to curb homophobia in the classroom.
Time For Inclusive Education (TIE), a campaign for LGBT-inclusive education in Scottish schools, has said that the Catholic Church in Scotland is willing to help them in their mission.
TIE have been working to introduce teacher training in schools across Scotland to tackle homophobia in the classroom.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Catholic Church said, “The Church is working with the Catholic Head Teacher association to ensure that all teachers have adequate knowledge, understanding, and training and feel confident in addressing all aspects of relationships education, including LGBTI matters, in an appropriate and sensitive way.”
The campaign has already received the support of a host of cross-party politicians; including Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party Patrick Harvie and Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell.
During a parliamentary debate following the massacre in Orlando last month, party leaders vowed to act swiftly on the campaign’s calls for LGBT inclusion.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also reaffirmed her support for the TIE campaign at the debate saying: “I don’t want to live in a country, yet alone be First Minister of a country, where any young person has to feel that, somehow, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, they are subject to judgement or made to feel in any way less than any other individual in our society.
“I have given a commitment to working with the campaign for inclusive education.”
A victim’s canceled meeting with Philadelphia archbishop prompts emotional rally outside cathedral
Monday could have been the day that clergy sex-abuse victim John-Michael Delaney finally got decades of frustration off his chest during a private meeting with Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput.
But in the days since Delaney told PhillyVoice of that meeting – something he’d avoided for decades on account of “not being able to be in the same room as a priest” – officials told the victim of one of the “archdiocese’s most brutal abusers” that the meeting was off.
Delaney said it was payback for going public; an archdiocesan spokesman said the meeting “will take place in due time provided all the parameters [of privacy] are respected.”
That didn’t sit too well with Delaney, who flew up from Tennessee this weekend to speak at a Monday afternoon press conference on the sidewalk outside of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on Logan Circle.
There, abuse victims railed against the church’s opposition to House Bill 1947, which proposed an extension of statutes of limitation dictating how long they had to file complaints against their alleged abusers.
The event was spearheaded by state Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks County), who has long championed the rights of victims of child sex-abuse crimes. In fact, Rozzi decided to fly Delaney to town for the event “and give him his voice,” he said.
“I just want to let the bishop know, and the church know, that as much as you try to victimize me, and us, we’re just going to keep coming back,” Delaney said in front of the Basilica’s front doors. “Like I told you on the phone last week, I told you I’d be in Philly. Here I am. You say you don’t want to talk publicly about a meeting with me, yet you oppose a bill publicly? That’s a lot of double standards.
“At least be man enough to sit in a room with a victim and hear what he’s got to say for 60 minutes, because I’m coming for more than 60 minutes this time. I’m going to keep coming back.”
Delaney didn’t speak for more than a minute at the event, where he was joined by several fellow victims – many of whom were not victims of clergy – and those who support their fight.
Rozzi noted that his political peers who battled against the amendment decided “to stand with pedophiles and the institutions that protect them, plain and simple.”
At the end of the 15-minute event, where he was flanked by victims and supporters holding signs, including one that read “Sexual abuse of little boys and girls is SOUL MURDER,” Rozzi threw a stack of grand-jury reports onto the Basilica steps. He then yelled that they “now lay at the archbishop’s feet; he’s responsible for these victims” and for any who may file complaints in the future.
“To all victims of childhood sex abuse, I promise that I will continue to fight for you until my last breath,” he said at the event’s onset before delving into his plans with the stalled legislation. “Not only will I put the retroactive up-to-age-50 component back in House Bill 1947, we will also be sure to include a two-year window to give all victims of childhood sexual-abuse the ability to have those voices heard in a court of law.”
He then turned back to the building behind him, and claimed that, for more than 50 decades, its leaders and all dioceses across the commonwealth “believed they were above the law … and now, they hide behind our laws.”
“Today, I want to make my message clear: I don’t care who you are, what institution it is, I don’t care when the abuse took place, if you abuse children, we are coming for you,” Rozzi said. “If you’re an institution that protected and actively managed, pedophiles, we are coming for you. If you’re a legislator who decides it’s more important to protect pedophiles and the institutions that protected them, we are coming for you.”
When news of Delaney’s meeting broke last week, archdiocesan spokesman Ken Gavin noted that it’s common practice not to publicize such events and shared a fact sheet about all they’ve done for victims. On Monday, he was asked by PhillyVoice for comment on the event at the Basilica.
“In the political debate about HB 1947, lawmakers are going to have to bridge the gap between emotion, and logic and the law,” he responded. “The archdiocese does not make its victims services programs available to survivors for political expediency, but out of genuine concern for the well-being of survivors. We offer to lift the burden of accessing resources, services, and support; and we always do this strictly adhering to privacy policies that have been carefully adopted in accordance with best practices in the victim-services field.”
Speakers at the event, however, clearly didn’t agree with this approach.
“It’s time for our elected representatives to start representing the common good, and it’s time for our religious leaders to start ministering to the victims,” she said. “Instead of shutting them out, instead of slamming the door on them in the legislature and in their own buildings, it’s time. Let’s heal the victims and let’s get justice. That’s why we’re here.
“The survivors here behind us are here because they have the strength to go forward. What’s sad is the ones who have suffered so much in this process,” she continued, referring to those who have committed suicide, including Brian Gergely. “We’ve got to start doing the right thing.”
Several victims who also spoke at the Basilica were at a statute-of-limitation reform-strategy meeting held at Hamilton’s University of Pennsylvania office on Monday morning. Both at the event – and in conversations beforehand with PhillyVoice – they spoke about how the legislative stalling affected them personally.
They included a 51-year-old man named Tim – who requested his last name be withheld – who spoke about abuse at the hands of the owner of the corner grocery store in Wyomissing, Berks County where he worked. He knows of at least two or three other young teens who suffered the same sexual abuse by a man who also served as a scoutmaster with a church in nearby Reading.
He said that before the Jerry Sandusky case broke, he’d written to his abuser asking him to pay for his therapy but that “he ignored it all.” The Sandusky case, however, showed him that other victims were seeking legal charges against their abusers.
“I started educating myself if what my options were, and there was not a lawyer who would take my case,” explained Tim, who said his lingering anger issues affect him, his wife and children. “Nothing gets told in Pennsylvania.”
So, he filed suit on his own but after a decade of legal work, it’s still pending as his alleged accuser has “convenient amnesia” as he battles the statute of limitations issues.
“It’s been both the experience of having been abused and then the experience of seeking accountability and justice that is currently ongoing,” he said at Penn. “I tend not to be public about my name. I filed it as John Doe and now I’m aware of John Doe B, C, D, E, I think I’m up to H against this guy.
“As a victim, you can’t just sit. You have to take action. It should have been filed decades ago. It’s not about the money, it’s about the healing of going through it. Money’s irrelevant. For me, and others that have done this that I’ve become aware of, it’s about the movement from being stuck in this position of being a victim and taking some action. At this point, I’m doing everything I can possibly do until a judge tells me it’s over.”
That includes “deposing the pedophile’s wife,” which has already happened.
“I need a window so that I have an opportunity to hold the abuser accountable for what to did to me,” Tim said outside the Basilica. “And that window has to be available for people like me, so we have an opportunity and not some arbitrary year, the age 50, where there’s a cutoff, which makes absolutely no sense at all.”
“It’s outrageous that the Roman Catholic Church of Pennsylvania is opposing legislative reform in HB 1947. Child abuse is an epidemic in this country,” she said. “By not supporting this bill, they are supporting pedophiles across Pennsylvania.”
Also speaking at Penn and then at the Basilica was Kristen Pfautz Woolley, who was sexually abused by a family friend when she was between the ages of 10 and 12. Now, she’s a clinician who works with child sexual-abuse survivors and recently wrote a column for the York Daily Record about her experiences.
“Having the right to call out your perpetrator in civil court protects future children from being violated,” she said, noting that her attacker has three daughters and grandchildren, but that she “cannot, because of the blocking of the Catholic Church, speak the truth of my perpetrator’s name to protect children even though my violation has absolutely nothing to do with the Catholic Church.
“There is no price tag on the protection of a child. It is very clear: You either stand for protecting children or protecting pedophiles. It’s as simple as that. So, while this is being blocked, I’d like to apologize to all future victims who my perpetrator will violate. My hands are tied until my day in court. Sorry I can’t protect you. I’m going to keep trying.”
After the event, Rozzi said he’s received countless emails from Catholic parishioners who do not abide by the church’s lobbying push to strip the House Bill of the statutes-of-limitation amendment. He noted that he’s even willing – in case the House leaders get wary of supporting his mission – “to suspend the rules on the House floor and I’m going to put [the amendment] back in. I know I have the support on the House floor. The leaders will not be able to stop me.”
From here, “it’s about continuing to work the issue” as victims from other archdiocese are being interviewed about being abused and how this could end up affecting “the entire Roman Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania.”
“One day, it may not be in 18 months, I’m hoping within three years because good things take time, I know more is coming down the road,” Rozzi said. “You can only deny, deny, deny for so long. There comes a point where you need to be held accountable. You can run but, guess what: I can run faster than you. I can track you down. We are going to make you be held accountable. It’s not over by any means. If the [state] Senate wants to kill it again, let them kill it. The blood’s going to be on their hands again.”
Eliel Cruz-Lopez, executive director of Faith in America, told LGBTQ Nation that Oliveto’s election is “historic” and has implications beyond the United Methodist Church:
The United Methodist Church is the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Last night, they became the largest Protestant denomination with an openly gay Bishop. In electing Rev. Karen Oliveto, the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church performed civil disobedience against the world church. This is historic. It’s also an act of spiritual protest against a homophobic policy that denies openly LGBT clergy from ministry. This election shows the UMC is changing and that the Holy Spirit is moving the church towards justice.
The election of Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, CA breaks through anti-LGBTQ law in The UMC and carries queer people to the highest levels of church leadership. Officially barred from so many churches and positions of spiritual leadership, queer persons may now see themselves as leaders of the body of Christ in the largest mainline protestant denomination in the United States.
Officially, the church explicitly forbids gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from being church leaders. It’s laws say:
The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.
A 40 year movement to end codified discrimination against LGBTQ persons is reaching a tipping point that hardly any rational-minded observer can deny. Since LGBTQ people have long been denied access to public spaces, homes, and churches, today’s news represents the breaking down of a long-standing barrier that has prevented queer people access to the fullness of Christian vocation on the grounds that they are “incompatible with Christian teaching.” It seems that unjust policy is finally subject to the winds of the Spirit.
Due to the church’s clear policies, it’s likely Oliveto’s election could face challenge or reprimand.