A prominent former Hennepin County attorney has volunteered to serve as an independent ombudsman in the ongoing reform of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Tom Johnson said Thursday he intends to encourage citizens to report alleged abuse to the police when appropriate, and would only share their complaints with law enforcement, the church or legal authorities if given permission.

“I have friends who have been the victims of clerical abuse, and know the pain that they’ve endured for years,” Johnson said. “And to the extent that there are others out there living in pain and would like to tell their stories, if coming to me frees them to do that, it’s something that I would like to do.”

Johnson is an attorney with Gray Plant Mooty in Minneapolis. He served as Hennepin County attorney from 1979 to 1991, and on the Minneapolis City Council from 1973 to 1977.

Johnson said he’s received no complaints or calls since his appointment was announced at a hearing last Friday in the church’s civil case in Ramsey County District Court.

‘Efforts being made’

At that hearing the archdiocese also presented the first of three audits mandated in a settlement reached in 2015 with the Ramsey County attorney’s office.

The auditing firm, Rochester, N.Y.-based StoneBridge Business Partners, found that the church was in “substantial compliance” with the settlement.

“Efforts are being made to make sure this never happens again,” said Ramsey County District Judge Teresa Warner, who presided.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s office filed both criminal and civil cases against the archdiocese in 2015, alleging that it failed to protect children from an abusive priest. As part of the settlement in the civil case, the church agreed to appear in court every six months until Feb. 2020 to provide status updates, and to produce three independent audits to measure its progress, among several other conditions.

The criminal case was dismissed in 2016.

The first audit showed that 92 percent of about 2,500 church employees and volunteers were in full compliance with the “Essential 3” requirements of the settlement, which include a background check and training.

Tim O’Malley, director of the archdiocese Office of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment, said all 577 clergy completed the Essential 3 requirements, and that some non-clergy training were not in compliance because dates were left off documents.

Warner said there was room for improvement, but praised the church’s work. Choi said the church had gone “beyond the letter” of the settlement.

“We realize as well that we have to work every day to make sure that we are protecting children,” said Archbishop Bernard Hebda.

Johnson a joint choice

Choi and the church said Johnson, whom they jointly recruited to serve as ombudsman, would play a key role. The unpaid post reports neither to the Ramsey County attorney’s office nor the church.

Johnson said he’s available to take confidential complaints from citizens about alleged abuse, as well as any concerns about the church’s reform efforts.

He can be reached at 612-632-3207, or thomas.johnson@gpmlaw.com.

The archdiocese also remains in bankruptcy court, where it seeks to settle more than 400 claims of clergy sex abuse. The case will mark its third anniversary Jan. 16.

In December, a federal bankruptcy judge rejected two competing compensation plans offered by the church and abuse victims and ordered all parties to resume negotiations.