Archdiocese to Name Abusive Priests

By Tony Kennedy
The Star Tribune
November 11, 2013

Archdiocese will name priests known to have abused minors. Attorney calls move “public relations, not public safety.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt announced Monday morning that he will release the names of priests who have sexually abused minors.

The move marks an about-face for the Archdiocese of St. Paul andMinneapolis, which has refused to release a list of accused priests for years.

Nienstedt said the Archdiocese will disclose “the names, locations and status of priests who are currently living in the Archdiocese, and who we know have substantiated claims against them of committing sexual abuse against minors.”

He said all the priests have been removed from ministry.

St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents victims of clergy sexual abuse, dismissed Nienstedt’s disclosure plan as a shallow public relations campaign. He said it falls far short of demands from the families of victims for the archdiocese to release the names of all priests in the archdiocese credibly accused of sexual misconduct.

“It’s more self-protection, not protection for children,” Anderson said. “It’s public relations, not public safety.”

Mike Finnegan, an attorney in Anderson’s office, called on Nienstedt to release the list of 33 credibly accused priests that he said the archdiocese has had since 2004. The archdiocese won a court ruling in 2009 that keeps the list private.

The open letter announcing the decision to release the names also describes the archdiocese’s handling of another accused priest, Clarence Vavra, who admitted to the archdiocese in 1995 that he had abused boys on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Vavra was not removed from ministry until 2003.

“Serious mistakes have been made in the archdiocese’s handling of abuse cases,” Nienstedt wrote. “Offering expressions of regret and sorrow seems so inadequate in the context of the crimes of the offenders and our failures to deal with them properly. And yet, I must say how sorry I am. My heart is heavy for the victims of this repugnant abuse.”

He said the archdiocese expects to announce next week the name of the outside firm that will conduct the review of priest files he announced last month.

Nienstedt said his plan will “demonstrate our commitment to the safety of minors and transparency.” However, the statement said the disclosures will be restricted to priests living in the archdiocese who have substantiated claims against them of committing sexual abuse against minors — and then only with permission of the “relevant court.”

Anderson said those limitations will protect the archdiocese from having to reveal the names of dead priests who committed sex crimes against children in recent decades, past offenders who are now living outside the archdiocese, sexual offenders who have been removed from the priesthood and any priest who has been accused of sexual manipulation of adults, including vulnerable adults.

“It’s really just maintenance of the status quo,” Anderson said. “I want them to come clean about the identities of all the offenders and their files.”

A church document obtained by the Star Tribune shows that Vavra was serving as a priest at the now-closed Church of St. Philip in Minneapolis in 1995 when he reported to church officials that he had sexually abused boys. After receiving treatment that started in 1996, he was placed back in ministry at St. Patrick’s Church in Shieldsville, near Faribault, in 1998. The document shows him working at St. Patrick’s through 2003 while also assigned to Most Holy Redeemer in Montgomery, Minn.

Vavra’s career as a Catholic priest started in 1966 at St. Rose of Lima in Roseville, where he was stationed until some time in 1969, according to the document. After that, Vavra rarely worked as long as two years in any one parish. Between 1970 and 1993, he worked at 10 different churches in Minnesota with the longest of those stays at Holy Redeemer in Maplewood from 1982 to 1986.


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