In the hope of adding clarity, I feel compelled to respond to the counterpoint “It’s the archdiocese, not survivors’ attorneys, that ought to give more” (April 6) by Jim Keenan, chairman of the Unsecured Creditors Committee in the archdiocese’s bankruptcy litigation.
Sadly, nothing I can do will ever take away the great harm caused to survivors of clergy abuse. Given the lives and families that have been devastated by that abuse, I can certainly understand why survivors are unable or unwilling to trust us. It is for that reason that we have turned to institutions external to the church to verify our commitment to protect minors and those who are vulnerable, as well as our sincere desire to make restitution for the sins and mistakes of our past.
There is no question that there were occasions when this local church failed to protect children. In 2015, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi charged us for that failure. I admitted to that failure publicly in December 2015 when we announced the settlement agreement reached with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office.
County Attorney Choi called that agreement to protect children and vulnerable adults in our churches, schools and communities “unprecedented.” Since then, we have demonstrated four times in Ramsey County District Court that we are living up to that agreement and are continuing to take verifiable, practical steps that create safer environments. As recently as January of this year, Ramsey County Judge Teresa Warner called the ongoing, working relationship between the archdiocese and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office “impressive” and emphasized that “good work is being done to make sure that this never happens again.”
Also this year, Choi pointed out that “the archdiocese has gone beyond the letter of the settlement agreement. They really have embraced the spirit of what we are trying to accomplish.”
These outside public servants are the independent guarantors of our commitment to protecting young people.
As archbishop, I am the accountable leader, but I do not act with unlimited autonomy. I am obligated to collaborate with others. The management of archdiocesan finances benefits from the expertise and commitment of lay leaders, just as the management of parish resources depends upon the engagement of lay experts at the parish level. This is how it should be, because neither archdiocesan funds nor parish funds are mine. They come from caring Catholics from throughout our 12-county archdiocese.
I hope that those reading this commentary and the accompanying one from the archdiocese’s Finance Council can see that we have honored our promise to put victims first by accepting responsibility for failing to protect children in the past, creating safer environments today and being transparent in our efforts to resolve the bankruptcy fairly.
Bernard A. Hebda is archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.