Bishop Regrets Incomplete Reviews

By David Unze
St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, MN)
December 21, 2002

St. Cloud Bishop John Kinney said Friday that his review of selected priests' personnel files after he became bishop in 1995 wasn't as wide-ranging as it should have been.

Kinney's comments come after questions were raised about the Rev. Donald Rieder, who was sued earlier this month by a former parishioner at St. John Cantius and charged criminally in Stearns County District Court. The Diocese first received allegations against Rieder in 1992, 10 years before Rieder had his priestly duties removed by Kinney after another allegation was made.

"In hindsight, I wish I had done a thorough review of all the priest personnel files in 1995, and I regret I didn't," Kinney said in a prepared statement. "Having asked for a review of the active files, there did not appear to be the need to launch a full review of all clerical personnel files in the diocese. Would I do things differently today? Absolutely."

The allegations in 1992 were investigated, and Rieder was placed "under close observation," Kinney wrote. "No new allegations concerning him came forward until this year," he wrote.

National leader

At the time Kinney was installed as bishop, he was the head of a national Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, which helped the nation's almost 200 Catholic dioceses develop policies for coping with sexual abuse. His position as head of that committee makes it difficult to understand why he didn't conduct a thorough review of all of his priests immediately, said Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer and victims advocate.

"This should be given first priority for any bishop coming in to a new diocese, and back in 1996 it should have been a first priority," said Doyle, a military chaplain at a base in Ramstein, Germany. "If I were a bishop, the first thing I'd want to do is know where the victims are and how to reach out to them."

Doyle worked at the Vatican Embassy, where one of his jobs was to assist in the process of placing bishops into dioceses. He doesn't fault only Kinney for not knowing about all allegations against diocesan priests.

"The previous bishopshould have been on top of things and said 'These are the ones I've isolated for attention,' " Doyle said.

Kinney was unavailable for an interview, but he responded with a written reply to the Rieder issue and the general topic of how he handled priest files when he became bishop.

When Kinney came to St. Cloud, he was appraised of all clerical personnel files in which allegations of sexual abuse were considered active, he wrote.

"I made sure each was being addressed appropriately. I felt I had primary responsibility to address cases that represented a threat of further abuse and required my immediate and active attention," Kinney wrote. "Father Rieder's file was not among them because it was not considered an active abuse case. If his file had been brought to my attention, I may have taken further action at that time."

Current diocesan policy requires all abuse allegations to be reported directly to the bishop.

Sharp critique

St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson was more critical of Kinney than Doyle. Anderson has sued numerous dioceses, priests and bishops and recently reached a landmark settlement with St. John's Abbey to settle numerous abuse claims.

"Him coming into St. Cloud in 1995 as the head of the (Ad Hoc) committee ... to either suggest that he didn't carefully review these things or re-examine what his predecessors had done - that's just obscenely negligent," Anderson said. "That's not even caring. As a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he was considered a leader in the formulation of policy. It was a superficial minimum to look only at those publicly accused."

Doyle and Anderson have seen the same thing happen in dioceses across the country, they said.

"This is a pattern around the country," said Doyle, who admitted being a bit biased because he's so deeply involved in the crisis worldwide. "Bishops claim they didn't know what was in the files. Most of the time, it's a lame excuse. This is serious. We're not talking about priests being late for Mass habitually. We're talking about men who have violated in the most heinous ways the bodies of young people - boys, girls and men and women."

Kinney acknowledged there are "legitimate questions and concerns about my actions and the actions of the diocese in (the Rieder) matter. I will continue to address those as completely as I can."

Kinney recently said he has reviewed all files of his current and past living priests and is working on reviewing the files of deceased priests. He hasn't commented on whether he'll make the results of that review public.

"It makes us wonder how many more there are like Rieder," Anderson said.


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