Former archdiocese official describes 'last straw'

  • Associated Press
  • October 4, 2013 - 6:05 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A former canon lawyer with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis says the final straw in her quitting was when officials refused to take action when she discovered pornography on CDs in chancery files on a priest who was up for promotion.

Jennifer Haselberger told Minnesota Public Radio for a story Friday that she believes some of the pictures showed minors, though police recently concluded the CDs showed only adults and no charges have been filed.

Echoing what police concluded, Paul Engh, a lawyer for the priest, told The Associated Press that the priest never possessed any child pornography.

Haselberger said Archbishop John Nienstedt's top deputy, the Rev. Peter Laird, ordered her off the case and to turn over the file box. She said she contacted authorities instead.

Laird resigned Thursday as vicar general of the archdiocese amid criticism generated by earlier revelations from Haselberger to MPR of how top church officials handled cases of priests accused of sexual abuse. Archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso told The Associated Press on Thursday that Laird's resignation had nothing to do with those allegations.

Haselberger resigned in April, citing frustration with church officials.

The images came from a computer that belonged about a decade ago to the Rev. Jonathan Shelley, who told MPR he did nothing illegal. Church officials had a forensic expert examine the images and prepare a report after the hard drive was turned over to a top church official in 2004. The adult son of a parishioner had found the images after his father got the computer from a rummage sale at the priest's church in Mahtomedi.

"Our position is that he never possessed any child pornography. ... There was no child pornography on that disc, period," Engh said.

Shelley forwarded a message from the AP to Engh, but told MPR: "If you're going to take my name and drag it through the mud now, 10 years later, for something that you clearly don't know all the facts on, that's something you're free to do. But I'm not going to add to it."

Accurso said Friday that Shelley has been on a leave of absence pending the police investigation.

In a statement, the archdiocese took note of recent news reports on its handling of priests accused of misconduct.

"Unfortunately, these reports are incomplete and leave a false impression about the commitment of the Archdiocese to identify and address misconduct by priests, the statement said. "It is critical to understand that our standard is zero tolerance for sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult and absolute accountability."

Haselberger said in an email she was traveling and didn't immediately respond to follow-up questions.

Meanwhile, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported that Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said he has opened an investigation into allegations that an area priest was in possession of child pornography. The newspaper did not name the priest, but his background matches up with Shelley's. Orput did not immediately return phone calls from the AP seeking comment. Engh said Washington County officials had not contacted him.

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