MINNEAPOLIS (AP/WCCO) — The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis plans this month to release the names of some priests who have sexually abused children, the archbishop said in an open letter Monday.
The names will be limited to those priests who live in the archdiocese and who have what church officials deem to be substantiated claims of abuse against them, Archbishop John Nienstedt said.
Nienstedt said he would disclose the names, locations and status of these men in November with “permission of the relevant court.” He said all of them have been removed from ministry.
“This is misleading as no court order is needed to release these names. Do it today. Why the delay?” said Mike Finnegan, an attorney for victims of sexual abuse. He added the conditions listed by Nienstedt wouldn’t include men who have moved from the archdiocese, or priests who have died.
Nienstedt and other church leaders long have argued against disclosing the names of priests accused of abuse, saying innocent clergy could be falsely accused.
The about-face comes amid a Minnesota Public Radio News report about another priest accused of misconduct. The archdiocese said Clarence Vavra admitted he engaged in sexual contact with young boys decades ago. MPR reported the 74-year-old was transferred 17 times over 38 years and currently lives near a school in New Prague.
“Serious mistakes have been made in the archdiocese’s handling of abuse cases,” Nienstedt wrote. “Offering expressions of regret and sorrow seems so inadequate in the context of the crimes of the offenders and our failures to deal with them properly.
“And yet, I must say how sorry I am. My heart is heavy for the victims of this repugnant abuse,” he wrote.
It wasn’t clear what impact Nienstedt’s disclosure would have, or whether his list would include new names or names that are already public. There are no active criminal cases against priests in the archdiocese, but there has been a flurry of lawsuits since Minnesota loosened its statute of limitations for filing civil claims in child sex abuse cases.
Nienstedt, who has been under fire over allegations that he and others mishandled cases of clergy sexual misconduct, said he plans to reveal the priests’ names to show he’s committed to transparency and to the safety of minors.
He said his decision about whether he will release all of the priests’ names will depend upon a review of priest files that he ordered in October.
“The only reason he is saying that stuff is because he is caught,” said Bob Schwiderski of the Minnesota chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). “The whole top official system of the Catholic Church in Minnesota…they’re in trouble. They’ve been caught.”
Finnegan and other attorneys repeatedly have asked the church to release a list of 33 priests whom the archdiocese deemed to have been credibly accused — including some who have died.
The archdiocese has had the list since 2004, and gave it to attorneys at Jeff Anderson and Associates, where Finnegan works, in 2009. A judge ruled Finnegan’s team couldn’t publicize it. But Finnegan says the archdiocese can.
At least two dozen dioceses, including Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Los Angeles, have released names of accused priests, according to BishopAccountability.org.
Terry McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, said some alleged victims feel emboldened to come forward after names of the accused are made public.
“I would also argue that the Catholic Church needs to do this,” he said. “It’s tearing the church apart to keep these secrets. They think they are protecting themselves and they are not.”
In his letter, Nienstedt acknowledged serious mistakes in the way the archdiocese dealt with Vavra, who was ordained in 1965 and removed from ministry in 2003.
Vavra self-reported in 1995 that he had sexual contact with several young boys and teenage boys while working on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1975.
Nienstedt wrote Vavra’s status was reevaluated after 2002, when bishops created a charter to protect youth. Under today’s standards, Vavra would have been removed when he admitted his crimes and authorities would have been notified.
There was no answer at a phone number associated with Vavra’s home, and an email seeking comment was not returned to The Associated Press.
Those calling for church reform, like Bob Beutel, say Nienstedt has now lost credibility.
“The abuse is the last…I wouldn’t say straw. This is certainly more than a straw; this is a ton of bricks.”
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