Archdiocese lawyer spills cover-up claims in 107-page affidavit
July 16, 2014
ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -
The most detailed allegations made by canon lawyer-turned-whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger are now public. A 107-page affidavit released Tuesday accuses archbishops and senior staff of lying to the public and concealing evidence of alleged sexual abuse by clergy in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Haselberger pulled no punches as she detailed practices and decisions within the archdiocese that ignore the Catholic church's "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," and she was very thorough as she laid out what she knew about the sex, the secrets and the cover-ups.
'Stop looking under the rocks'
Haselberger said she was told to "stop looking under rocks." More specifically, she said the men at the top -- Archbishop John Nienstedt and his former second in commands, vicar generals Peter Laird and Kevin McDonough -- obstructed and ostracized her.
She said Nienstedt ordered his secretary to shred important documents under Haselberger's desk, including some that later proved to be important -- like financial records related to the marriage amendment campaign funding and the investigation by the campaign finance board.
Haselberger also described McDonough as an apologist for abusing priests, who believed in forgiveness, not zero tolerance.
Paper chase for problem priest files
Haselberger said that when she started examining records in 2008, she found the files of “nearly 20” priests who were guilty of sexual misconduct but were still in ministry. Those priests include Father Curtis Wehmeyer, who was allowed to live in a camper by the church, where he smoked marijuana and would go on to molest two boys. Also, Father Jonathan Shelley, who had alleged child pornography on his computer, but for 8 years the church did nothing.
According to Haselberger, most priests hadn’t had background checks since the early 1990s, despite the “industry standard” of background checks every 3 to 5 years. Furthermore, the archdiocese relied heavily on self-reporting by sexual misconduct offenders, “with very little effort made to verify if those reports were accurate.”
Furthermore, Haselberger said those priests who were accused of sexual misconduct joined a sort of shell game that allowed them to be quietly moved while the personnel records were scattered here and there.
‘Haphazard’ archiving of priest files
Haselberger points to record-keeping policies that were “haphazard at best, and made it nearly impossible to locate them once the problem was identified.”
“In many cases, the active personnel files of these priests did not contain any reference to the existence of the files that had been archived, meaning that someone reviewing one of these priests' personnel file would not necessarily discover that there were concerns regarding misconduct,” she said.
Haselberger said she warned Archbishop Nienstedt and his staff about the legal risks of placing these priests in parishes, but they took action only in one case. She said her persistence in warning the archbishop of these problems led to her being shut out from future meetings regarding priest misconduct.
"Had there been any serious desire to implement change, it could have been done quickly and easily with the stroke of a single pen," Haselberger said.
Pimp calls the chancery
In March or April of 2013, the archdiocese learned of new allegations that a priest had been “engaging the services of prostitutes.” Haselberger and others learned of these allegations when a man named Robert called the chancery complaining that one of his “associates” named Nicole had provided services to a priest but hadn’t been paid.
It was discovered the priest in question was being extorted for $30,000, but former vicar general, Father Peter Laird, wouldn’t allow Haselberger to review the parish financial reports or speak with the bookkeeper about irregularities.
Declining FBI job offer to fix the archdiocese
In February of 2009, Haselberger turned down a job offer from the FBI, feeling she had more work to do at the archdiocese.
“My eventual decision to remain with the archdiocese resulted more from a sense of obligation than a sense of contentment with my position,” Haselberger said.
Whistleblower’s ‘final straw’
Haselberger concludes her signed affidavit with the following statement:
“The final straw for me was when the Archbishop himself stated in December of 2013 that he believed that the issue of clergy sexual abuse had been taken care of when he became Archbishop in 2008, and that he was 'surprised as anyone else' when the story broke. To see an Archbishop, who had recently celebrated Mass and was still vested and holding his crosier, lie to the faithful in such a boldfaced manner, was heartbreaking to me. That was really when I abandoned hope that this situation could be resolved by the present administration, by which I mean not only the Archbishop, but everyone else who has been involved in this ongoing debacle.”
Haselberger’s grievances with the archdiocese finally led to her submission of a resignation letter, in which she asked for back pay and for Archbishop Nienstedt to publish the list of all known offenders.
Read and search the 107-page affidavit and Haselberger’s resignation latter at http://www.andersonadvocates.com/documents/Haselberger%20Affidavit%20-%20redacted%20%28FILED%29.pdf
The following statement was issued Tuesday by Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens:
“Today, it was brought to our attention that Jennifer Haselberger, former Chancellor of Canonical Affairs for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, provided an affidavit in the case of Doe 1, which is a civil lawsuit against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Diocese of Winona, and Thomas Adamson. Thomas Adamson was accused of abusing Doe 1 in 1976 – 1977, decades before Ms. Haselberger’s service to the archdiocese.
This affidavit provides a more detailed account of Ms. Haselberger’s perspective of events at the archdiocese, which she has already shared publicly during the past year. Her recollections are not always shared by others within the archdiocese. However, Ms. Haselberger's experience highlights the importance of ongoing constructive dialogue and reform aimed at insuring the safety of children.
Since Ms. Haselberger’s departure, we have begun the implementation of the Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force Recommendations which address some of the concerns she has raised. We continue to take concrete steps toward greater transparency and accountability in protecting children while offering hope and healing to victims.”