Report alleges larger list of abusive priests in Twin Cities

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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A new report challenges the number of priests in the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese with credible claims against them of sexual abuse of minors.

The archdiocese lists 39 priests with substantiated (sufficient evidence to believe allegation occurred) claims of abuse, but a story published Wednesday by Minnesota Public Radio found at least 70 priests since 1950 with allegations or suspicions of child sexual abuse.

MPR compiled its list from court records, private settlements, police reports and internal church documents as well as numerous handwritten and emailed lists and memos stored at the chancery. According to MPR, the latter lists have never been viewed by local law enforcement, who have not asked the archdiocese for its files on alleged priest abusers.

From MPR:

"Inside the chancery over the past 15 years, secret allegations of abuse have collected in filing cabinets, a vault and the basement archives.

"The MPR News investigation found that at least 21 priests named as suspected child abusers by other dioceses and religious orders had served in the Twin Cities archdiocese. At least four priests have been the subject of lawsuits for alleged child sexual abuse but haven't been named on the archdiocese's public list. Records show at least 10 clerics have been criminally investigated."

In December, the archdiocese released a list of 33 priests with substantiated claims of abuse that it reported in 2004 to the John Jay Commission, as well as another four priests with claims the archdiocese could not substantiate. That release resulted from a court order. On Monday, it disclosed another nine names with substantiated claims discovered by an external independent review of its files.

The MPR report includes copies of several memos where church officials discuss suspected abuse or the lists they have compiled. It also tracks the efforts of former chancellor of canonical affairs Jennifer Haselberger to press the archdiocese to review those priests named in such lists who remained in ministry. According to Haselberger, the archdiocese discussed in 2013 ceasing the practice of keeping lists so they could not be acquired in lawsuits.

At one point, Haselberger, who came across many of the lists while organizing the chancery records, expressed her concern in July 2012 that a background news release for chancery officials to approached about the arrest of Fr. Thomas Adamson included the statement, "No priests credibly accused of misconduct are currently in ministry in this archdiocese."

"I don't see how we can say that no priests credibly accused of misconduct serve in the archdiocese, even as background. That is simply not true," Haselberger wrote.

In response, an archdiocesan attorney, Andrew Eisenzimmer, replied: "Jennifer, your objection is duly noted for the record. We go with the statement, as we've done on multiple, earlier occasions, which [Vicar General Peter] Laird has approved."

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the story reveals the archdiocese has not been fully open about its records, and questioned why police and prosecutors have yet to seize such documents. 

Read the full MPR story here.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

Editor's Note: An earlier version said the email conversation between Haselberger and Eisenzimmer related to Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer, not Fr. Adamson. The conversation addressed Adamson and occurred a month after Wehmeyer's arrest. 

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