The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis says it will create its own task force to investigate its handling of alleged priest misconduct, but critics are demanding more transparency.
New criticism emerged regarding how the church handled alleged sexual abuse by priests, and last week, the top deputy at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis resigned. However, the Archdiocese says Rev. Peter Laird's resignation has nothing to do with the sexual abuse reports or St. Paul Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer's imprisonment for abusing two boys and possessing child pornography.
The independent task force will review issues related to clergy sexual misconduct and make recommendations for future action and policies.
The Archbishop appointed a new Vicar for Ministerial Standards, Fr. Reginald Whitt, a Dominican priest from the University of St. Thomas School of Law, to assume full responsibility for all issues related to clergy sexual misconduct. The task force will have at least six members, all are lay people but none are employed by the Archdiocese. They're expected to be formally appointed on Wednesday.
The task force will complete the following during the investigation:
1. Review all documents of the Archdiocese related to policies and procedures for responding to and preventing sexual misconduct
2. Interview current and former staff members and others at its discretion, including victims and clergy accused of sexual misconduct
3. Prepare a report to the Vicar for Ministerial Standards that will recommend actions to be taken by the Archdiocese
SNAP UNLEASHES CRITICISM
The Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) revealed its doubts with the task force and will meet Monday asking for church officials to "come clean" about every sexual misconduct case within the Archdiocese, including names, photos and whereabouts of priests associated with misconduct on the archdiocesan and parish websites.
SNAP will hold a Monday afternoon conference and hold signs and childhood photos outside the Cathedral of St. Paul. There, SNAP says it will disclose a letter from an Archdiocese staffer with alleged information regarding priest misconduct and supposedly, a lagging abuse report reply from church officials.
STATEMENT FROM THE ARCHDIOCESE
The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis announces today the details regarding the formation of a new Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force ("Task Force") effective today, October 6, 2013.
Over the past two weeks, serious allegations have been made concerning certain priests in this Archdiocese and the handling of cases by archdiocesan officials.
"These allegations must be addressed urgently, transparently and with truly independent review," Archbishop Nienstedt said. "Addressing these serious allegations is the top priority for the Archdiocese."
As a result, the Archbishop has appointed a new Vicar for Ministerial Standards, Fr. Reginald Whitt, a Dominican priest from the University of St. Thomas School of Law, to assume full responsibility for all issues related to clergy sexual misconduct, and appoint an independent lay task force to review any and all issues related to clergy sexual misconduct and to make specific recommendations regarding actions to be taken and policies and procedures to be implemented.
The Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force will operate independently of both the Vicar for Ministerial Standards and the Archbishop. The Task Force will have full authority and all the resources needed to complete its work. The findings and recommendations of the Task Force will be released publicly when the final report is complete and the Vicar for Ministerial Standards will implement the recommendations, which the Archbishop has pledged to accept.
Members for the Task Force are being considered by Fr. Whitt and formal appointments are expected to be final by Wednesday. Fr. Whitt will announce the names of the members and the chairperson, and Fr. Whitt will be available to meet with the media on Wednesday afternoon, October 9 (details to be announced). The membership of the Task Force is not being reviewed by the Archbishop, nor is he making any decisions about the membership.
The Task Force is expected to convene this week. The Vicar will not attend meetings of the Task Force, unless invited by the chairperson.
"There can be no room for misconduct among our clergy and our standard must be zero tolerance for abuse of minors and vulnerable adults," Archbishop Nienstedt said. "We hold a sacred trust. Our very vocation requires the highest standard of conduct so that all may be drawn to the person of Jesus Christ through our witness."
We seek these unprecedented measures so that we may have a renewed commitment to create and maintain safe environments where the Gospel of Jesus Christ can flourish. During this very difficult time, please hold each other, our community and this local Church in prayer. Please pray for all victims of sexual misconduct in Church ministry and in our society.