Well, our archdiocese is bankrupt. Possibly deserved, but still a sad event. None of us can tolerate sexual impropriety. But bankruptcy means that missions will be constrained; parishes in poorer areas will have less support; schools will be reduced in number, and good, well-meaning and conscientious dedicated people will be affected.
Minnesota’s Child Victims Act, which removes the civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse allegations, was passed by the Legislature in 2013. No doubt there was widespread concern about the matter of sexual abuse, as there should be. However, some of us do wonder if the Legislature fully comprehended what would happen when the act was passed. Other institutions and members of the business community might well wonder if the curtailment of the statute of limitations might be extended to other arenas.
The cases involving the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are old. The 64 accused priests and brothers were born an average of 81 years ago. Of these, 79.7 percent were removed from ministry an average of 20 years ago. Forty-seven percent of the accused have died. Settlements were made or attempted with the people affected — a process perhaps delayed and made complicated by the threatened and filed lawsuits. Settlements are needed, of course, and many were offered and accepted.
In this modern age, few of us are able to go through life without some exposure to sexual impropriety that makes us sick. These cases involve a wide spectrum of vocations and personalities. Despicable as they are, the cases are not simple. I have dealt with several in my years in industry and during my several decades as a corporate director. The cases take time and are often confusing. The arduous task of finding the exact facts is neither quick nor simple. People have to be interviewed — and qualified. Qualified and willing witnesses able to provide credible evidence must be found, and their statements must be verified. Unfortunately, what is ultimately proven is not always immediately proven.
Yet, many of these difficult situations are so serious that decisions do have to be made. Whether all of the decisions made by the various archbishops were prompt enough is a question that can be posed. But, in looking over the 50-year history of credibly accused religious figures, one finds it is not true that the archdiocese routinely did nothing.
As a practical matter, there are some potential liabilities in employing anyone — in church work or anything else. We in the United States have come to hold employers responsible for the personal behavior of employees — not only in sexual matters but in a wide variety of situations. Employing people can create large contingent liabilities. But our existing employment statutes prohibit any questions or inquiries into the personal characteristics of applicants or employees that might provide a way for the employer to mitigate these liabilities. That needs review.
Yes, the bankruptcy is a sad event. Over the decades, the Catholic Church has built schools, hospitals, universities, homes for children and performed myriad tasks many of us see as valuable services that often benefit individual people and the community as a whole. The archdiocese is now bankrupt.
Fred Zimmerman, of Minnetonka, is a retired professor of engineering and management and has served on the boards of directors of several corporations.