Insider: Archdiocese had ‘cavalier attitude’ about clergy abuse cases

For lawsuit, whistleblower details archdiocese trouble in handling clergy abuse cases.


Jennifer Haselberger, seen in a Sept. 10, 2013, photo, was canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis until her resignation in April 2013.

Photo: Jennifer Simonson, Associated Press

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Whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger described the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as a place where child abusers were given repeated opportunities to remain in the priesthood, where “monitoring” was lax or nonexistent and where investigations often favored priests, in an affidavit filed Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court.

Haselberger, who exposed troubling practices in the church’s handling of clergy abuse cases, wrote that the archdiocese had a “cavalier attitude toward the safety of other people’s children.”

The written testimony of Haselberger, an archdiocesan canon lawyer before resigning last year, comes in response to an explosive lawsuit filed on behalf of a man who claims former priest Tom Adamson abused him in the 1970s.

Haselberger is one of the major players in the resulting sex abuse scandal rocking the archdiocese. A canon lawyer who worked for the archdiocese for all but two years between 2004 and 2013, she is among key critics with direct knowledge of child sex abuse practices.

The lawsuit was filed shortly after Minnesota changed its statute of limitations to allow older child sex abuse cases to be heard by the courts. The changes in law, combined with Haselberger’s public disclosures about church practices, set the stage for unprecedented revelations now being made public about how the church handled abusive clergy.

Her written testimony is important because if lawyers are to argue that the archdiocese has created a “public nuisance,” it requires evidence of continued practices that endanger children.

The archdiocese issued a statement Tuesday saying that Haselberger’s recollections “are not always shared by others within the archdiocese.”

“However, Ms. Haselberger’s experience highlights the importance of ongoing constructive dialogue and reform aimed at insuring the safety of children,” the statement said.

107-page affidavit

The 107-page affidavit includes Haselberger’s assessment of the archdiocese’s abuse policies and practices, as well as challenges to the sworn testimony of Archbishop John Nienstedt and a former vicar general, the Rev. Peter Laird. It alleges a variety of troubling church practices.

• Financial deals were frequently cut with priests who agreed to step down from ministry, she said. Some, however, tried to come back — even after serving jail time.• The culture at the archdiocese was for top officials not to dig deep into priest personnel files, she said. Haselberger said the archdiocese’s attorney told her to “ ‘stop looking under rocks,’ knowing how upset it made me to see how things had been mishandled.”

• Former Vicar General Kevin McDonough’s practice of placing child sex offenders in administrative positions was not permitted under policies made by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, she said, and it posed a public danger.

Haselberger cites the example of a priest, whose named was edited from the affidavit, who abused at least one female under age 18, yet was permitted to minister during and after the time he was in a sex offender program in the 1990s.

“I was, and remain, deeply impacted by the suffering caused by [Father] in part because it was the first case that I worked on that involved a victim who committed suicide,’ ” she wrote.

• Abusive priests who were required to be monitored fell into four categories: “being monitored, formerly monitored, requiring monitoring but never monitored, discussed but never monitored,” said Haselberger, citing a church report.

Even when monitored, priests had little oversight. Wrote Haselberger: “McDonough’s program relied heavily on self reports of the priests … with very little effort made to verify if those reports were accurate.”

• Haselberger says church investigations into priest misconduct with children and adults tilted in favor of protecting the priest. In 2013, for example, she said that she and an archdiocese attorney were appointed to investigate allegations that a priest had been hiring a prostitute at his parish.

After the priest was threatened with extortion for more than $30,000 — and the prostitute showed up at the chancery seeking payments — Haselberger said Laird “refused to allow us to review parish financial reports or to speak with the bookkeeper … and constantly harassed us to conclude the investigation with the limited information we had assembled.”

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