Church Still Needs to Do the Right Thing for Sex Abuse Victims
By Ruben Rosario
January 29, 2014
|Ruben Rosario (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)|
But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Matthew 18:6.
I made a New Year's resolution not to write too often this year about the church -- my church -- that has forgotten Jesus and his admonition when it comes to protecting and doing right by child sex-abuse victims over the years.
It almost at times feels like piling on, so much has been and continues to be documented about clergy sex abuse and impropriety scandals. I'm sick already of this stuff, for it continues to stain the great majority of the good people of faith.
But like my supposed diet, I'm breaking it right here and now.
It has a little something to do with Wednesday's announcement that local law enforcement officials declined to file criminal charges against church higher-ups in one priest child-abuse case and another one involving alleged possession of child pornography.
It has more to do with garage parking lights.
Now the little bit of news that has prompted my rant comes from an excellent story by Minnesota Public Radio last week about secret accounts the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis set up to pay off problem priests and child sex-abuse victims and their families.
According to internal church documents obtained by MPR through former church employee and whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger and others, the archdiocese spent $11 million from 2002 to 2011 for such payouts. Meanwhile, they were being robbed blind by a chief church accountant who took advantage of the secret slush funds to embezzle $650,000 from the archdiocese.
The convicted embezzler, Scott Domeier, blamed the payoffs for encouraging him to steal.
In the MPR piece, Domeier, currently serving a five-year state prison term, recalled a memo from Archbishop John Nienstedt "expressing concern that the archdiocese was wasting money by leaving the lights on in the parking garage over the weekend."
Nienstedt is the church higher-up who wastefully spent more than $1 million of church monies to launch an unsuccessful campaign to impose a state initiative to ban same-sex marriages. A public statement stating the church's position would have sufficed. It backfired. That misstep among others gave rise to a derisive nickname among a few parish priests critical of his ill-advised venture into secular politics: "Niens..t."
On Wednesday, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, joined by St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith, said there was insufficient evidence to file obstruction-of-justice or other criminal charges against church higher-ups with respect to convicted child abuser and former St. Paul church pastor Curtis Wehmeyer. Meanwhile Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said investigators found no child porn in the computer of another priest removed from public ministry a few years ago.
St. Paul-based victim attorney Jeffrey Anderson believes both Choi and Smith wimped out in the Wehmeyer case.
Anderson said documents confirm Wehmeyer was given a 28-hour advance by church higher-ups that he would be arrested for the child-abuse allegations. That gave him time, Anderson argues, to remove a camper trailer at the church parking lot where the crimes took place to a storage facility.
Anderson represents Wehmeyer's two child victims -- and perhaps a third not connected to the criminal prosecution -- in a potential civil lawsuit against the archdiocese that could be filed within few weeks.
"They had ample evidence," Anderson said of law enforcement.
Choi, a St. Thomas Academy and Marquette University graduate, grew up Catholic but says he is no longer a practicing Catholic. Smith is a former altar boy with an intense dislike for sex offenders. I believe both men were itching for criminal prosecution, but were handcuffed by current laws.
That in a sense elevates Anderson to the most influential person in town to continue to hold the local archdiocese -- at least in the civil court forum -- accountable for such misdeeds.
His law office has filed about 30 lawsuits against archdioceses and dioceses in the state, under a law passed last summer that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for past child abuse victims. The recent public revelations have prompted several dioceses to release lists of "credibly accused" priests. These lists should have come out voluntarily years ago. Quite a number of the accused are long dead.
Some critics call Anderson an unabashed shill, ambulance chaser, scumbag, Satan incarnate.
I think without him and others like him, my church hierarchy would still hide and transfer child molesters and think they are above the laws of the land.
I jokingly asked Anderson one time whether there will come a day when folks like him will not be needed.
"Oh, I wish that would happen," he told me. "But unfortunately, these people are still keeping me in business. They are still not doing right by children who were abused and are still suffering as adults."
Perhaps they should indeed shut off those parking lights at the chancery after all. Every little bit helps.
Ruben Rosario can be reached at 651-228-5454 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/nycrican.