of alleged sex abusers greater than church has revealed
By Madeleine Baran
Minnesota Public Radio
February 19, 2014
|The main altar at the
Cathedral of St. Paul, the central church of the Archdiocese
of St. Paul and Minneapolis, is the central focus of the
sanctuary. It is the place where Mass is offered and the
Catholic Eucharist is celebrated.
At the height of the national clergy abuse scandal 11 years ago,
Harry Flynn gave speeches across the country condemning child
abuse and vowing to change the church.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Kevin McDonough, his deputy at the
Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, sat in a chancery
office and checked boxes on a form. He was completing the U.S.
Catholic Church's first survey of abusive priests.
33 priests. He wrote down their initials and dates of birth and
sent them to researchers. The 33 men became known as the
"credibly accused priests." The paperwork McDonough
submitted became known as "the list." The archdiocese
acknowledged the existence of the list in 2003 but declined to
release the names.
• From the archive: 33
priests in Minneapolis Archdiocese abused minors, according to
audit (Dec. 11, 2003)
The list symbolized all that victims believed was wrong about
the Catholic Church's handling of abuse claims — the
secrecy, the failure to warn the public, the hidden offenders.
Victims' attorney Jeff Anderson received the list under
court seal as
part of a lawsuit in 2009. In December, a
judge ordered the archdiocese to release the names to the
public. The secrecy appeared finished.
But it wasn't. The list
of 33 was incomplete.
An MPR News investigation has found the
actual number was more than double the archdiocese's
official count. The priests served in nearly every parish in
They include men who admitted abusing children, such as the Rev.
Gerald Funcheon, who testified under oath in 2012 that he had
sexually abused a number of boys. "I couldn't count
'em up," he
said. "I'll go, I don't know. I'll go to 18
... I can't give you a number on this."
Others include a man dismissed from the priesthood for
child sexual abuse and several men named by other dioceses and
religious orders as credibly accused offenders. One priest left
off the archdiocese's official list, who retired from the
priesthood at age 53, is now under criminal investigation for
alleged child sexual abuse.
The failure to disclose the information led parishioners
to believe for more than a decade that the clergy abuse crisis
was not as widespread as the media had reported. Top church
officials boasted about the number as proof that the archdiocese
was among the safest in the nation. The lack of transparency
also reduced the risk that a victim might recognize a
priest's name and file a lawsuit.
list of 33, it turns out, was just one of many. There were
handwritten lists and emailed lists and memos about lists stored
on computers and in filing cabinets at the chancery in St. Paul.
Some men appeared on every list, others on one or two. All of
the lists obtained by MPR News contain information that police
have never seen. Chancery officials later stopped writing lists
for fear they could be obtained in lawsuits, former chancellor
for canonical affairs Jennifer Haselberger told MPR News.
A review of these lists, court records, private settlements,
police reports and hundreds of internal church documents has
found that the
archdiocese dealt with allegations and suspicions of child
sexual abuse involving at least 70 clergy members since 1950.
MPR News also found more than a dozen other priests
referred to as possible child abusers in private lists and memos
but could find no information about their alleged crimes. MPR
News is not naming those men.
Why some men weren't included on the list of 33 is
unclear. Documents suggest that in several cases McDonough
simply lost track of allegations.
November 2005 memo to Flynn, for example, McDonough wrote about
the case of the
Rev. Kenneth LaVan: "It embarrasses me to acknowledge once
again a lapse of memory on my own part. Although I had dealt
with LaVan for many years about his boundary violations with
adult females, I had forgotten that there were two allegations
in the late 1980s concerning sexual involvement with teen-aged
In other cases, as the legal stakes climbed, McDonough
demanded evidence that was nearly impossible to obtain. In one
2006 case, he rejected allegations from a man who couldn't
produce copies of his medical records from the 1960s.
Some of the accused men remain in ministry. Others are
long dead. Several have been included on other lists of
"credibly accused" priests from other dioceses or
religious orders but their assignments in this archdiocese were
Archbishop John Nienstedt, through a spokesman, declined
to be interviewed. McDonough did not respond to an interview
request. A spokesman for the archdiocese wouldn't explain
how abuse claims were vetted.
Last year, the
archdiocese hired Kinsale Management Consulting, a private
firm, to review its clergy personnel files. On Monday, the
archdiocese disclosed nine more names after MPR News began
contacting some of the men.
St. Paul police have not asked the archdiocese to turn over its
files on accused priests. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi has
told MPR News that he doesn't plan to convene a grand jury.
St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith has
told MPR News he lacks probable cause for search warrants or
subpoenas to seize the chancery's files.
attorney: Grand jury not a likely option in archdiocese
investigation (Dec 16, 2013)
Ramsey County Judge John Van de North is the only public
official who has ordered
the archdiocese in recent months to disclose some of its
information on allegedly abusive priests. It was Van de North
the archdiocese to publicly disclose the names on the list of
33 credibly accused priests. The archdiocese posted
the names on its website Dec. 5, 2013, with a disclaimer that
said it didn't know why two of the men were on the list.
Van de North also ordered
the archdiocese to turn over the names of all priests accused
since 2004 of child sexual abuse. The archdiocese said
it would appeal.
Private lists and public vows
For more than a decade, top church leaders had promised to be
open and truthful about priests who sexually abused children.
"We don't have secret abusers out there,"
the Catholic Spirit newspaper in February 2002.
McDonough handled abuse allegations for the archdiocese
for more than two decades and served as the vicar general from
1991 to 2008. He resigned last year as head of the
archdiocese's child safety programs.
When the archdiocese announced
in late 2003 that it had found 33 credibly accused priests in
the past five decades, McDonough praised his church's
handling of abuse claims.
"Our church has been under enormous, enormous
scrutiny for the last dozen years," McDonough told MPR
News in December 2003. "So I think we probably have fewer
unreported crimes than do other institutions."
Keeping the public safe required an aggressive disclosure
of the church's secrets, the archdiocese declared in a
March 2004 statement. "An evil must be named and defined
before it can be successfully confronted," it said.
And yet, inside the chancery over the past 15 years,
secret allegations of abuse have collected in filing cabinets,
a vault and the basement archives.
News investigation found that at least 21 priests named as
suspected child abusers by other dioceses and religious orders
had served in the Twin Cities archdiocese. At least four
priests have been the subject of lawsuits for alleged child
sexual abuse but haven't been named on the
archdiocese's public list. Records show at least 10 clerics
have been criminally investigated.
In one case, MPR News obtained a copy of a $42,000 settlement
agreement between an alleged victim of the Rev.
James Johnson and the Marist Society, a religious community.
The agreement, signed Aug. 13, 2004, said the man could use the
money for "counseling or any other purpose that would
assist his healing."
settlement released the archdiocese from all claims. Johnson,
who isn't on the archdiocese's public list, served at
the Church of St. Louis, King of France, in St. Paul from the
mid-1950s to the early 1960s.
• Document: Read
the full settlement
Some of McDonough's private memos include troubling
references to other files. In a September 2002 letter to a
woman who said her brothers had been sexually abused by the
Rev. Louis Heitzer, McDonough wrote, "As
I have come to learn more about what Louis Heitzer did, I
believe he was perhaps the most abusive priest ever to be a
part of this Archdiocese. I now believe that he abused boys
every place he went." The archdiocese hasn't released
any information on Heitzer's alleged abuse. He died in
Haselberger arrived at the chancery in 2008 to work as
the chancellor for canonical affairs for Nienstedt. She
oversaw the chancery's records and advised the archbishop
on the laws of the Roman Catholic Church.
"When I started, the priest files were just an
absolute mess," Haselberger said. "So you'd have
a manila folder and you'd have everything kind of stuffed
in there, from mimeographed papers from way back to copies of
letters to memos, just all in this kind of mad jumble, no
She quickly realized that there was no single list.
"We had other lists. Frightening lists, to be
honest," she said. "People developed lists based on
cases that they were aware of."
Chancellor Bill Fallon compiled
one list in 2002 of 16 priests who faced possible removal
from ministry for alleged child sexual abuse under a policy
known as the Charter
for the Protection of Children and Young People. He sent the
names in an memo, obtained by MPR News, to Flynn, McDonough
and Auxiliary Bishops Frederick Campbell and Richard Pates.
Campbell now serves as the bishop of Columbus, and Pates
serves as the bishop of Des Moines.
wrote that he had created three categories: one for cases in
which the "allegations are admitted and the Charter
clearly applies," one for cases in which "the
allegations are either disputed or the facts are unclear or
unresolved," and one for "those in which the facts
are fairly clear, but it is not clear whether the conduct
complained of is sufficient to warrant" removal from
Some of the names on the list are now well known. Two of
the men have never been publicly identified as priests accused
of child sexual abuse. MPR News isn't publishing the names
because no information on the alleged abuse exists in public
records or internal documents reviewed for this investigation.
priests: Who they are, where they’ve served,
Other lists within the chancery from the same time
period include an unsigned handwritten sheet of paper with the
names of 13 priests alleged to have abused minors and a typed
list of 29 priests accused of sexual misconduct with either
adults or children.
One priest who was placed on leave last year is included
in the handwritten list under the heading "Minors -
McDonough named 27 priests in
an Aug. 12, 2002, memo to Flynn.
He divided the names into two categories: "Priests
with known abuse histories" and "Priests with
disputed claims, marginal behavior, or undue attention."
The list includes the names of several priests not disclosed
to the public.
Other priests discovered by MPR News didn't show up
on any lists, public or private. The allegations against them
were written in private memos or letters to victims and
leaders of other dioceses or religious orders.
Haselberger said she stumbled across many of them by
"I'd be looking through the file of a priest
that had never appeared on any of these lists, and I'd see
some kind of report of sexual activity involving a
minor," she said.
Haselberger said she notified Nienstedt and his senior
advisers of the documents she found and urged them to
reconsider whether accused priests should be serving in
parishes. In most cases, she said, nothing happened. The
documents remained in the files and the priests remained in
She also recommended that the archdiocese track abuse
complaints with a software program called CaseMaster
Complaint, used by other Catholic dioceses, Haselberger said.
Lawyers and top chancery officials rejected the plan because
they worried who would gain access to the sensitive
information, she said.
By 2013, chancery officials had grown wary of lists. At
a meeting with senior officials, McDonough said lists were
risky because Anderson, the victims' attorney, could go
after them in lawsuits, Haselberger said.
McDonough also sought to dampen the public's
fascination with the list in a January 2013 interview with MPR
News. "We don't maintain lists… We don't
have a list anywhere. I probably could reconstruct a list
based on memory or culling of files, but we don't have
some secret place where we have a list hung on a wall
Haselberger said the lack of an accurate list made it
impossible to track accused priests or understand the scope of
the problem. "We can't function as a church if our
desire is always to protect ourselves from civil
liability," she said. "What we should be about is
doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do,
'Your objection is duly noted'
By the summer of 2012, following the arrest of the
Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer for sexually abusing two boys at
Blessed Sacrament Church in St. Paul, Haselberger had grown
fed up with the archdiocese's handling of abuse cases.
She had warned Nienstedt to reconsider his decision to
appoint Wehmeyer as pastor, given the priest's sexual
addiction and interest in anonymous sexual encounters with
young men. Nienstedt ignored her advice.
Haselberger became more forceful in her opposition to the
archdiocese's handling of abuse claims. A month after
Wehmeyer's arrest, the archdiocese communications
department prepared a news release on a lawsuit involving
the Rev. Thomas Adamson. It included three key points for
chancery officials to use as background, among them: "No
priests credibly accused of misconduct are currently in
ministry in this archdiocese."
Haselberger said she believed from looking at the secret
lists and private memos that the statement was wrong. In
an emailed response, she wrote, "I don't see how we
can say that no priests credibly accused of misconduct serve
in the archdiocese, even as background. That is simply not
The archdiocese's top attorney, Andrew Eisenzimmer, replied,
in an email obtained by MPR News: "Jennifer, your
objection is duly noted for the record. We go with the
statement, as we've done on multiple, earlier occasions,
which [Vicar General Peter] Laird has approved."
emailed back: "Then please also let the record reflect
my concern that when we cause this erroneous information to
be published, people make decisions based upon it. Those
people include our parish trustees, our corporate board,
decision makers at our Catholic schools and institutions, and
others who have fiduciary and oversight responsibilities.
Those people also include, even more importantly, parents and
other guardians who are making decisions about the safety of
their children and other vulnerable individuals."
Eisenzimmer did not respond to an interview request.
Haselberger resigned last April in protest of the
archdiocese's handling of clergy sexual abuse and
approached MPR News with her story in July. Her
resignation letter to Nienstedt, which detailed her concerns
about several cases, ended with one last request.
"I ask, on behalf of all the members of the
faithful of this Archdiocese, that you take your
responsibilities towards the protection of the young and
vulnerable seriously, and that you allow an independent
review of all clergy files, and that you publish the list of
all known offenders."
Haselberger said she hasn't talked to Nienstedt
since then. She hopes that prosecutors will convene a grand
jury and police will seize the chancery's files.
Otherwise, she said, no one will ever know the full story.
Internal documents don't match the
archdiocese's public statements about the prevalence of
clergy sexual abuse.
In March 2002, McDonough told the St. Paul Pioneer
Press that as of 1998, 15 priests in the archdiocese had
been "credibly accused" of child sexual abuse in
the past 50 years.
Nearly two years later, in 2004, the
archdiocese announced that 26 diocesan priests and seven
other priests had been "credibly accused" of child
sexual abuse in the past 50 years. All of the abuse took
place before 1988, it said. This was the
list of 33 that would later become infamous.
Six years later, in an April 2010 interview with MPR
News, McDonough offered a lower number: "There are
about two dozen names of priests who've been credibly
accused in the last 60 years of sexual abuse.
"All of those are known to the public in large
group or small, but two that I can think of. In one case, we
learned of the accusation through a medical record. In a
second case, it was a single accusation against a long-dead
priest. And we were able to find no corroborating
evidence," he said.
McDonough didn't name the priests but sought to
reassure parishioners. "We do not have bad, threatening
people, priests or other clergy whose cases are not widely
known," he said.
The archdiocese reassured the public that the number of
victims was relatively low. In 2004, it said publicly that it
had received only 69 credible allegations in the past 50
Yet an internal chancery document from May 2006
— just two years later — lists the names of 180
victims. The nearly eight-year-old document isn't a
complete listing of all victims, just those known to the
chancery in some depth at the time.
It suggests that the archdiocese could face massive legal
liability under a
new law that allows victims more time to sue. In the
Archdiocese of Milwaukee, by comparison, about 575 people
have come forward to allege abuse, and the archdiocese has
filed for bankruptcy.
The jumble of official-sounding language —
"marginal behavior," "substantiated
claims," "credibly accused" — runs
through many of the internal documents without definition
Nienstedt, Flynn and McDonough have declined for
months to explain how the archdiocese has evaluated claims
MPR News could find only four priests who served or worked
in the Twin Cities and were criminally convicted of child
sexual abuse: Michael
Wehmeyer and James
In every other case, the archdiocese relied on its own,
unexplained methods to determine whether an allegation was
credible. McDonough hinted at some of his personal criteria
in notes from a 1988 meeting with an accused priest, John
McGrath. The alleged victim's story seemed credible,
McDonough wrote, because she made the allegation at the
request of a "reputable therapist"; her story
included "sufficient accuracy of detail"; she was
willing to have her name disclosed to her abuser; and she
lacked "personal vindictiveness."
In 2002, Flynn drafted the U.S. Catholic Church's
new policy for handling clergy sexual abuse. The Charter
for the Protection of Children and Young People said that
any priest found to have sexually abused a child must be
permanently removed from ministry or dismissed from the
In this new era of accountability, the stakes were
high and the public pressure intense. Within the chancery
offices, officials changed their approach to vetting abuse
allegations, according to thousands of documents reviewed
by MPR News.
Victims now needed to prove their claims. Church
officials created difficult, vague and shifting criteria
for an allegation to be deemed credible. It was no longer
sufficient for a parent to show up at the chancery in
Most claims of child sexual abuse, in the church or
elsewhere, lack direct evidence. There are few
fingerprints, surveillance videos or eyewitness accounts.
By the time most victims come forward, it's too late
for prosecutors to file criminal charges. The horrors of
child sexual abuse often remain confined to the memories of
victims and the files of their therapists.
Once out in the open, few of those memories could
withstand the scrutiny of the archdiocese and its private
McDonough dismissed some people as too angry to be
believed. An anonymous letter alleging abuse by a priest at
a campground in the 1970s was dismissed immediately as a
hoax, Haselberger said.
For 11 years after Flynn wrote the policy, records show,
the archdiocese rejected all but one complaint against a
priest not already on the official list of 33. The
exception — the
Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer — is now at the center of a
renewed inquiry into whether the archbishop and his priests
broke the law by
failing to immediately call police.
A 'priest in good standing'
One of the priests accused of child sexual abuse in the
past decade is the Rev.
Gerald Grieman, who retired from full-time ministry in
1999 at age 53.
In about 2006, a man told the archdiocese that
Grieman had sexually abused him at St. John the Baptist in
New Brighton in the early 1990s, when he was about 12
The man, now 32, asked that MPR News not publish his
He recalled talking to Greta Sawyer, the
archdiocese's victims' advocate, for nearly an
hour in 2006. Sawyer listened carefully to his story, the
man said, and at first he was hopeful that the archdiocese
would seek out other possible victims.
Instead, he said, Sawyer asked him to turn over his
psychological records. "She was trying to gather
information on my drug and alcohol problems and how
troubled of a child I was," the man said.
He declined to provide the records, and the
archdiocese decided the claim wasn't credible, he
The man's father told MPR News that the
archdiocese seemed more focused on finding fault with his
family and his son than on investigating his son's
Sawyer told him the case was a matter of "he
said, he said," the father said.
The archdiocese did
report the claim to the New Brighton Police Department,
but police didn't investigate. The father and son said
they wondered what happened with the investigation because
no one from the police department ever called them.
• Document: Read
the police report
They were startled to learn this week that the
police report said the case was closed because officers
couldn't locate the victim. "Greta knew where to
find me," the man said.
Last year, the man contacted
police himself to file a report on Grieman. Police closed
the case without filing charges, but the case was reopened
several weeks ago.
• Document: Read
the most recent police report
Grieman, 67, declined to comment. Sawyer did not
respond to a request for comment.
In June 2010, Nienstedt wrote
a letter to the bishop of San Diego in which he called
Grieman a "priest in good standing." Nienstedt
wrote the letter in response to a request for Grieman to
serve there in the summer.
• Document: Read
Nienstedt's full letter
In his letter, Nienstedt noted the abuse claim.
"The allegation was referred to the civil
authorities, who declined to investigate due to the
incomplete information that was provided," he wrote.
"It was then reviewed by an independent investigator,
who found nothing to establish or corroborate the
allegations. Finally, it was referred to the Archdiocesan
Review Board, who saw no reason to restrict Father
Grieman's ministry in any way."
Haselberger, the former chancellor, said the review
board never looked at the case.
The father of the alleged victim told MPR News that
he remains a devout Catholic, but he wishes the church
would release all the information on its abuse claims and
stop using phrases like "credibly accused."
"They know what they're doing," he
said. "If they really wanted to, they could get to
the bottom of all of this."