They were, and are, pillars of the community. Saint Paul is a Catholic city, you see. Walk through the Catholic cemetery in the northern part of the city, and looking at the monuments is like looking at the street signs. So these men, these archbishops, were welcomed anywhere, feted, their opinions sought.
And they moved their child-raping priests around to new parishes and hushed up their crimes just like those other respected men in other cities. The only difference was that when earlier scandals broke, they assured us that they were following the proper procedures to make sure they didn’t happen here. Minnesota Public Radio just uncovered one of those former priests living “less than a block from a school”.
The archdiocese’s handling of Vavra reveals decades of deception by leaders who promised “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse. An MPR News investigation has found that three archbishops — John Roach, Harry Flynn and John Nienstedt — failed to report Vavra to authorities or warn the public. Roach transferred Vavra 11 times in 20 years. Flynn overlooked Vavra’s alleged sexual interest in a murderer and in a convicted child rapist, and gave the priest payments above his pension in exchange for agreeing to retire early. Nienstedt stopped the payments, but Vavra continues to live a quiet life in a neighborhood full of children.
With all the deference and trust routinely given to retired clergy, while his former victims remained without recognition. I can’t imagine how that could go wrong.
MPR has been digging hard into the church’s business on this one. They’ve been pushing, along with a former lawyer for the church who used to investigate these matters. Archbishop Nienstedt has promised to appoint independent investigators outside the church–though this has yet to happen–and release the names of priests the church found guilty of molesting children–though he has said in other communication that he isn’t sure he can do that.
One statement from the church regarding the list stood out to me as familiar. The priest in question was referring to calls from victims’ attorney and advocate Jeff Anderson to release the full list of priests about whom credible reports of abuse have been made.
Other church leaders have previously sought to downplay the importance of any list of abusive priests. Former top church official Rev. Kevin McDonough told MPR News last year that releasing a list wouldn’t appease critics because some would question whether it was accurate. “The list-making and publication that’s happened in some places has not resolved the trustworthiness questions,” McDonough said.
“If it becomes an issue of trust with people whom we don’t think are just running a marketing campaign, I think you’d see us change in a heartbeat.”
Victim advocacy as a promotion strategy. Where have we heard that before?
Archbishop Nienstedt also said he won’t resign over his prior handling of these cases, even in the face of protests. There’s a lawsuit, and an investigation opened in one of the prior parishes affected. This is likely to get uglier as time goes on. I expect MPR will stay on top of the story. You can keep up with their ongoing reporting on the matter.