The St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese has turned to a Minnesota law enforcement veteran to oversee its effort to address clergy sex abuse.
Timothy O’Malley, the former head of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, will fill a leadership position created by the archdiocese in response to the wave of clergy abuse allegations in the past year.
“I bring a background that hasn’t been here before,” said O’Malley, who met with reporters Monday alongside Archbishop John Nienstedt.
“I’ve investigated sexual abuse, homicides, other violent crimes. I think I understand what law enforcement needs to be successful, to ensure justice can prevail.”
O’Malley said he also brings decades of experience working with victims of violent crime, including cases ranging from the 1989 disappearance of Jacob Wetterling to the 2003 Rocori High School shooting in Cold Spring, Minn. Said O’Malley: “There’s a certain compassion I bring to the job to help victims in the future.”
Nienstedt said O’Malley had the right set of qualifications for the key clergy oversight position, including intellect, an impressive career in law enforcement, and “a compassionate heart for victims/survivors.”
“It’s important that the judge establish good relationships with priests, that they know he is a man of integrity, a man of fairness, that he is here to determine the truth of any particular allegation,” said Nienstedt.
The archdiocese has been rocked by allegations of abuse since last year, when the Legislature made it possible for older abuse cases to be heard by the courts.
On Monday, the trial date for a lawsuit against former priest Tom Adamson was postponed from Sept. 22 to Nov. 3. The move came in response to requests by the archdiocese and attorneys for the alleged victim. Even before trial, the case has resulted in the unprecedented release of documents and names of accused priests.
The new trial date is set with the expectation that it will not take more than five weeks, ruled Ramsey District Judge John Van de North.
New job at archdiocese
A task force that reviewed the archdiocese’s handling of the abuse cases had recommended earlier this year that the church create the position that O’Malley will hold, called director of ministerial standards and safe environment. The position oversees a team of church leaders handling sexual abuse reports, victims services, staff training and interactions with the Clergy Review Board.
Advocates for people abused by priests said it was “a positive step.”
“They put a cop at the top, and that’s good,” said Bob Schwiderski, Minnesota director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). “Historically they had a cleric overseeing abuse investigations. They’d have an in-house investigation and claim they couldn’t substantiate it.”
O’Malley begins his job Sept. 15. He is currently the deputy chief judge at the Office of Administrative Hearings, an executive branch tribunal that resolves more than 6,000 cases each year.
He worked at the Minnesota BCA from 1989 to 2010, with positions ranging from SWAT commander to special agent to superintendent.
Before that, he was an FBI special agent and a BCA undercover investigator.
Raised a Catholic, he attended 16 years of Catholic schools. His religious affiliations are now more “independent,” he said.
He admits that family and friends were surprised when he talked about the job.
“I had friends and family say, ‘Why would you want to jump into that?’ ” he said.
More than 3,000 files related to clergy abuse have been assembled by the archdiocese for the upcoming trial, and O’Malley said his job is to make sure that they “are dealt with properly.”
Coordinating and sharing information on abuse issues in the archdiocese will be another top priority, said Nienstedt and O’Malley. Earlier this year, an archdiocese task force on abuse reported that power and information was concentrated on “one or two individuals.” It also reported that clergy abuse documents were scattered in several locations.
Endorsed by Wetterling
Assisting victims of abuse and their families is another priority, they said.
Patty Wetterling, who has known O’Malley since the abduction of her son in 1989, called O’Malley smart, tough and compassionate.
“I can tell you he is greatly respected in both the law enforcement and victim services communities and has proved his commitment to building a world without sexual violence,” she said in a statement to the media.
Nienstedt, meanwhile, said he hoped the appointment would let Minnesotans know that the archdiocese is serious about addressing clergy abuse.
“My hope is that people will see this as a step forward,” said Nienstedt. “Hopefully it will lend credibility to what we are doing.”
O’Malley said he was “honored to join the team.”
“Like many others, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, I have been profoundly troubled and disappointed by how the church has addressed reports of abuse,” said O’Malley in a news release. “I want to help change that. The archdiocese must do everything possible to prevent the kind of abuse that Pope Francis has accurately and pointedly described as ‘despicable.’ ”