The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis submitted its sixth progress report on clergy abuse protocols to a Ramsey County District judge Thursday, indicating it is in “substantial compliance” with a 2015 settlement agreement with the county.
The archdiocese continues to strengthen oversight of sexual misconduct issues: Its clergy and staff have been trained on detecting and handling abuse, and Archbishop Bernard Hebda meets regularly with officials in charge of protecting children, according to the report, which outlined other measures.
Judge Teresa Warner told archdiocese officials at the Thursday hearing that while the church is complying with the agreement’s specifics, it also must plan for a future when court oversight has ended. That happens next year.
“We’re not doing this to just comply with the settlement agreement, but to change the culture,” said Warner, who then asked archdiocese officials if they were satisfied with progress on that front.
Tim O’Malley, director of the Office of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment, responded, “Yes. We’re not there yet.” But, he said, progress is being made.
Thursday’s hearing marks the third year that Warner has reviewed biannual progress reports from the archdiocese stemming from the settlement of a sex abuse case involving former St. Paul priest Curtis Wehmeyer. The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office filed civil and criminal charges against the archdiocese in 2015 for failure to respond to repeated reports of sexual misconduct by Wehmeyer, who is now serving prison time for molesting the sons of a parish worker.
The civil charges were dropped in December 2015 with a settlement agreement requiring a sweeping overhaul of archdiocese practices for protecting children and handling clergy abuse reports. Criminal charges were dismissed in 2016 with a public apology by the archbishop and further strengthening of child protection measures.
Warner, a judge in child protection cases, said there is typically “discharge planning” when a child is slated to be reunified with his or her family. That type of planning should be considered by the archdiocese as it moves toward the end of court jurisdiction.
“There’s a year left in this agreement,” she said. “What are we doing to move forward?”
O’Malley said he believed the archdiocese was in a strong position to maintain its child protection gains. Policies and procedures are in place. More people and a more diverse group of individuals, including lay people and some abuse survivors, are now getting involved in the issue. Restorative justice sessions also are being held in churches to help heal both congregations and those who were abused.
All 587 clergy members have completed background checks, the progress report said. Priests credibly accused of abuse have stricter monitoring, and four archdiocese staff are now working directly with schools and parishes on the issue, the report said.
The number of staff and volunteers who received child protection training increased from 92 to 97 percent over the last audit, archdiocese officials said.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Thomas Ring told the judge that the relationship between the archdiocese and the County Attorney’s Office has matured over the years, and there is now mutual understanding, unlike earlier when “the two sides tested each other.”
In addition to the progress report, the archdiocese submitted to the court an independent audit of its child protection measures by the StoneBridge Business Partners, a New York-based compliance and consulting firm. It also found the church in compliance with the settlement terms.
The archdiocese is expected to file its next progress report in May.