Archdiocese to Hold Conference for Clergy Abuse Survivors
By Joe Ruff
January 15, 2020
Victim/survivors and others impacted by clergy sexual abuse are invited to a Jan. 23 conference on restorative justice and healing organized by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The daylong conference in Lake Elmo, east of St. Paul, will include Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi providing an update on the impetus for the conference: The settlement of civil charges filed by the county in 2015 alleging the archdiocese was negligent in the case of an abusive priest.
“Mr. Choi always felt restorative justice should be part of the archdiocese taking accountability for its actions and providing a means of healing for the community,” said Stephanie Wiersma, an assistant Ramsey County attorney who will participate in the conference and has been involved in the case since the beginning.
A great deal in the archdiocese has changed for the better since 2015, Wiersma said, including leadership from Archbishop Hebda and others that is no longer willing to push aside the issue of clergy sexual abuse.
Providing safe environments and accountability are top priorities, she said, from creating a strong Ministerial Review Board to establishing rigid reporting requirements for safe environment programs in parishes and schools.
Still more can be accomplished, but “there’s been a lot done in a short amount of time,” Wiersma said.
As part of the conference, four victim/survivors and the mother of one of those survivors plan to share their experiences concerning clergy sexual abuse and how it has changed their lives.
Not only will they share something about what they’ve been through, but also the healing they have experienced, including the people and circumstances that have been instrumental in that healing, offering a sense of hope to those gathered, said Paula Kaempffer, archdiocesan outreach coordinator for restorative justice and abuse prevention.
Janine Geske, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and retired law professor who about three years helped bring the concept of restorative justice to the archdiocese, will talk about her experiences working with restorative justice and abuse survivors.
There will be an opportunity also to experience healing circles, in which people directly and indirectly harmed by abuse can talk about its effect on their lives as others respectfully listen, Kaempffer said. Everyone in a circle is invited to share their thoughts, she said.
Healing circles are one way to promote reconciliation and justice as people name the harm done to them, the impact it’s had on them and those to whom they are close, and the need to repair that harm, Kaempffer said.
“Restorative justice is centered on (helping) the victim,” she said.
The conference is part of the archdiocese meeting terms of its settlement with Ramsey County over civil charges that it was negligent in the case of three brothers who were sexually abused by former priest Curtis Wehmeyer at Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul in 2010 and 2011. The settlement agreement was amended in June 2016, when Ramsey County dismissed related criminal charges.
A Jan. 28 hearing is scheduled on the agreement and the court’s four-year oversight of archdiocesan efforts to provide safe environments for children and vulnerable adults. The settlement calls for oversight to end Feb. 1.
But the archdiocese’s work has gone beyond terms of the agreement, and those efforts will continue to grow as it seeks to repair harm done by clergy sexual abuse, said Tim O’Malley, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment.
Keeping people informed about the settlement agreement, the expected end of court oversight and what the futue holds also is important, he said.
As one means to that end, O’Malley said, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens and Choi will join him at St. Odilia in Shoreview at 7 p.m. Jan. 28 for an open discussion about keeping children safe in parishes, schools and the broader community and the relationship built between the archdiocese and the county attorney’s office.