MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A 12-person panel comprised of doctors, lawyers and church laypersons will oversee any suspicions of clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
It’s part of a breakthrough settlement reached on Thursday with the Ramsey County Attorney to resolve a civil suit that was filed last June.
Under the terms of the settlement, efforts to assure the safety of all children will be scrutinized by annual audits and reports to the county and district court.
Allegations and settlements involving clergy sex abuse have plagued victims and the Archdiocese for years. It has also resulted in forcing the church into bankruptcy protection and the departures of top Archdiocese leaders.
In June, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi took legal steps with hopes of preventing future abuses. Under the agreement, that framework is now in place.
“There will never come a day when we stand before you and Catholic faithful and say, ‘We’re done,'” Bishop Andrew Cozzens said.
With that, church leaders announced the civil settlement at a Friday news conference, saying it goes far beyond what a judge could have ordered.
“This is about protecting kids,” Tim O’Malley, director of the office of ministerial, said.
They’ll do that with the help of a 12-member Ministerial Review Board. It is a panel comprised largely of lay persons to evaluate a cleric’s fitness for ministry and to oversee all reports of wrongdoing.
The agreement also set in place clear response standards, annual audits and reports to the court.
“We can commit to changing the future with the hope that other young people might not have to experience such a betrayal of trust,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda said.
The civil suit stemmed from the abuse of three young boys at the hands of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer. He was convicted of sexually assaulting boys who were members of Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul back and sentenced to five years in prison.
“The hierarchy of the Archdiocese no longer can conceal or minimize clergy sex abuse,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in announcing the agreement.
He charged the Archdiocese with causing the victim’s needs for protective services. Choi said the settlement puts the Archdiocese under the oversight of the county and the courts.
“With these standards no longer will it be possible for its leaders to assert they did not know about suspected child sex abuse,” Choi said.
What’s different is that, in the past, one or two clergy members reviewed allegations of abuse or misconduct. That’s no longer the case. It will be up to the Ministerial Review Board to take up all such cases from here on out, essentially taking it out of the hands of clergy.
A companion criminal case will continue and is not affected by the settlement agreement.
Gross misdemeanor charges were also filed alleging the church contributed to the victim’s need for child protective services. A hearing on the criminal case is coming up in January.