Updated: 10/25/2013 6:35 AM
Created: 10/24/2013 10:20 AM KSTP.com
By: Leslie Dyste
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis made serious mistakes in the way it handled allegations of clergy sexual misconduct in the last decade, Archbishop John Nienstedt acknowledged Thursday as he announced he has ordered an external review of all priest files.
Nienstedt apologized to victims in a column posted on the website of The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocese's official newspaper, and said he knows the ultimate responsibility lies with him as head of the local church.
"My heart is heavy with the agony that these errors have caused," he wrote.
The archdiocese has come under fire since a former employee claimed church leaders mishandled abuse allegations. Nienstedt's top deputy has stepped down, police are investigating, and there have been public calls for Nienstedt to resign.
Nienstedt had previously set up a task force to review church policies, and said Thursday he is committed to implementing their recommendations.
He also wrote that he has ordered a review of all clergy files by an outside firm.
Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the review is a "top priority." He said it began 10 days ago by independent counsel who are looking for indications of clergy misconduct, illegal behavior, financial mismanagement or possible violations of canon law.
Accurso said firms with expertise in reviewing clergy files nationwide will also be brought in to help with the review. Candidates will have no prior association with the archdiocese, he said.
Nienstedt has refused repeated interview requests from The Associated Press. A source within the archdiocese confirms he denied any cover-up of abuse and said he has not offered to resign.
He wrote Thursday that policies governing misconduct allegations may not have been uniformly followed, and that he's questioning the "prudence of the judgments that have been made." He said the church must be committed to honesty and transparency.
He also said sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult is "reprehensible" and goes against Christ's teachings. When perpetrated by a clergy member, he said, "it is an egregious betrayal of a sacred trust."
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said any external review would not be independent if ordered by the archbishop. He said the review should be conducted by law enforcement.
"Nothing he can say will matter. Only what he does matters," Clohessy said. "And today he exposes no predators, disciplines no enablers, reveals no secrets, and deters no cover ups. It's just more promises from a bishop who has repeatedly broken promises."
Clohessy said secrecy is a key part of the problem. His group has called for the archdiocese to make public a list of 33 priests it has identified as having credible allegations of abuse lodged against them.
Nienstedt insists no offending priests are in active ministry. He said he would never knowingly assign a clergy member to a parish or school if he has concerns, and promised a rigorous analysis of priests before assignments are made.
Nienstedt also said the church must cooperate with authorities, and that media reports and letters from Catholics and the general public have made him "aware that there is real fear that some priests in ministry today constitute a danger to children.
"I could never knowingly allow such a situation," he said.
Father Mike Tegeder's Response
Father Mike Tegeder from St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Minneapolis says he was hoping for a different message from the Archbishop, "It's disappointing. I think he had an opportunity to do something that maybe could have changed the tone and changed the discussion, but i think he's just digging himself deeper."
Father Tegeder says the issue is beyond addressing abusive priests, Tegeder says he wants to learn more about Archbishop Nienstedt's actions in dealing with priests whose behavior was cause for concern, even alarm. Father Tegeder cites Archbishop Nienstedt's column, "He says that he's, 'after a month now, he's come to understand more clearly what has happened.' Well, he made these decisions. He knows what happened."
Father Bill Deziel's Response
A North St. Paul priest, Father Bill Deziel, had publicly called for new leadership in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul Minneapolis, among other suggestions, in the Church of St. Peter's church bulletin.
On Thursday, Father Deziel responded to Archbisop Nienstedt's letter to the Archdiocese.
"Archbishop Nienstedt’s heartfelt expressions of sorrow and his personal commitment to the protection of our children and young people are powerful and reassuring.
I believe that the independent work of the task force combined with the review of all clergy files by an outside firm will encourage many concerned faithful to regain their trust and confidence in our archdiocesan leadership.
The archbishop is offering humble, thoughtful, and decisive leadership. I fully support him and his team and these meaningful steps that he is implementing to ensure that no children are ever put in harms way by abusive clergy."
Costs Associated with Cases
The Star Tribune reported Thursday that the archdiocese spent nearly $11 million from 2003 through 2012 to cover costs associated with cases of sexual misconduct by priests. The figure includes payments to victims, as well as costs of supporting priests who have been removed from active ministry due to misconduct.
Accurso told the AP he could not comment on whether that figure is accurate because the archdiocese hasn't seen the documents cited in the report.
In a Q&A posted by the Archdiocese, Nienstedt answered many questions asked by the media recently.
The Associated Press Contributed to this Report.