PRIEST MISCONDUCT: Task force to investigate cover-ups - KMSP-TV

PRIEST MISCONDUCT: Task force to investigate cover-ups

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The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is scrambling to respond to more allegations of priest misconduct. Soon, a special task force will be formed, but some are skeptical that it will be objective in its investigation.

The Archdiocese tells FOX 9 News it is hoping for transparency and accountability. That's why they've charged a University of St. Thomas law professor with creating a special group to look into all issues related to priest sex abuse -- but even some Catholics admit they wonder whether those involved will be truly independent from the church.

"It's not independent just because the archbishop says it is -- and it's especially not independent if it's headed by someone who he picks and is, in fact, a priest and a lawyer," David Clohessy said.

Outside Catholic headquarters in St. Paul, one alleged victim of priest sex abuse shared his story with FOX 9 News.

"I simply come to say, 'Yeah. I'm one of them,'" Frank Meuers said. "Am I proud of it? No -- and it hurts."

Meuers said church leaders knew the late Father Rudolph Heinrich, of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Golden Valley, molested children in the 1950s and 60s; however, the church only acknowledged it two years ago.

"I wanted to speak out about the secrecy that continues, and it simply drives me nuts," Meuers admitted. "I feel re-victimized over and over and over."

Along with the survivor's network of those abused by priest, Meuers says he feels emboldened by last week's resignation of Vicar General Peter Laird. Laird stepped down after court documents revealed the Archdiocese may have known about pornography found on an old computer belonging to Rev. Jonathan Shelly for almost a decade and tried to hide it.

Now, the Archdiocese says it is forming an independent task force to investigate priest sex allegations and bring more transparency. Father Reginald Whitt, a distinguished law professor at the University of St. Thomas who answers to the dean, will be at the helm; however, although he will choose members for the group, he won't be a part of it.

"He's a Dominican, and that's an important factor here because he's not a Diocesan priest," explained Dr. Don Briel, director of the Center for Catholic Studies. "Therefore, his superior is not the archbishop."

Briel said the task force Whitt will assemble will likely include psychologists, lawyers and non-Catholics -- but no clergy.

"They're asking a group of competent people to analyze the situation, where the problems have lain, and what's to be done to address it," Briel said.

Yet, even though he believes the formation of the group is an important first step, Briel admitted the task force alone won't restore confidence in the church.

"The burden of proof is now on the Archdiocese, and the loss of credibility is significant," he said.

More information about who will be involved in the task force is expected on Wednesday, which is when Whitt will be introduced by the Archdiocese -- perhaps along with some members of the group.

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