Archdiocese at Center of Accusations, Resignation, New Investigation
By Karen Scullin
October 4, 2013
More accusations have been brought against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, this time involving alleged possession of child pornography and a cover-up. On top of that, the Archbishop's top deputy has resigned, and it appears a new criminal case is about to get underway.
Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney representing victims of sexual abuse by clergy, was trying to get a judge to release a list of 33 names the Archdiocese has investigated for abuse when church lawyers suddenly presented a police report in court.
"My reaction was disbelief," Anderson said. "The Archdiocese waved a police report suggesting that Father John Shelley was innocent and had been cleared by police."
But the report details an investigation by St. Paul police in May of 2013 in which a former church employee -- Jennifer Haselberger -- called police. She told them church leaders failed to report "thousands of images" of child pornography found on the computer of Rev. John Shelley, a local priest. She even revealed there was a report done by a private investigation firm hired by the Archdiocese that confirms the findings.
"I would expect that there would be a new investigation if that one was closed, given the revelations of yesterday," Anderson said.
In February of 2012, Haselberger allegedly brought the items to Vicar General Peter Laird and other top officials, but says she was ordered to put the evidence into a secure vault. On Thursday, Rev. Laird resigned.
"I think his resignation is an effort by the Archdiocese to show the public and mislead the public in believing that they are doing something, but it's really just trying to deflect, I think, responsibility for where it lies," Anderson said. "That is at the top with the Archbishop and other top officials."
When police investigated Haselberger's claims, the church turned over CDs, which contained only adult pornography. Investigators were told the actual computer had been destroyed. Rev. Shelley was not charged.
Rev. John Shelley is reportedly on sabbatical as pastor of St. John the Baptist Church of Hugo. He told Minnesota Public Radio he did nothing wrong.
Washington County has just opened up an investigation into the allegations that Rev. Shelley was in possession of child pornography. FOX 9's Maury Glover is following this story @maurygloverFOX9
Over the past few days, there have been multiple media reports concerning the conduct of a number of priests going back many years. Unfortunately, these reports are incomplete and leave a false impression about the commitment of the Archdiocese to identify and address misconduct by priests. It is critical to understand that our standard is zero tolerance for sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult and absolute accountability.
Since 2002 we have implemented a long list of policy and procedural reforms to clarify guidelines and strengthen enforcement. Some of the actions we have taken include completing more than 3,000 adult safe environment training sessions for approximately 70,000 adults; conducting 105,000 background checks on clergy, staff and volunteers; and providing over 100,000 children with age-appropriate lessons to help keep them safe.
As a further demonstration of our commitment to handling these matters aggressively and consistently, we have formed a special task force and charged them with conducting a full review of our policies and practices. When the report is complete, the findings and recommendations will be released publicly.
We are deeply sorry for any harm that has come from clergy misconduct. Eliminating any form of abuse is the highest priority for the Archdiocese. Our record is not perfect, but we have made great progress, and we are determined to do whatever is necessary to eliminate this problem.