We have a major Catholic sex abuse case going on in Minnesota, and it’s slowly coming to an end. Right now, it’s like a game of “good news, bad news,” though.
Those claims were bolstered by an MPR News investigation last fall that showed top church officials continued to protect priests accused of abuse. One priest, the Rev. Clarence Vavra, had privately admitted to sexually abusing a child on an Indian reservation in South Dakota in the 1970s. MPR News found him living half a block from a school. In another case, Harry Walsh, a former priest who was accused of abusing two children, had been hired by Wright County to teach sex ed to at-risk teenagers.
Archbishop John Nienstedt and former Archbishop Harry Flynn did not notify police or the public about the allegations against Vavra and Walsh and kept other clerics in ministry despite allegations of sexual misconduct, according to documents obtained by MPR News. Flynn and Nienstedt also gave special monthly payments to priests who had admitted to sexually assaulting children.
Good news. Investigators came up with a novel strategy for tackling the problem: they accused the church of being a “public nuisance”. It sounds like a trivialization, but just think Al Capone and tax fraud.
The broad public nuisance claim also forced church officials to testify under oath and turn over decades of documents that showed a widespread cover-up of clergy sex abuse. Unlike a standard negligence case, the public nuisance argument allowed Anderson to obtain more than 50,000 pages from the files of every priest accused of abuse dating back decades — over the objections of a team of church lawyers who argued that the information was not relevant and could ruin the reputations of innocent men.
Prosecutors have not filed criminal charges against church officials for failing to report a suspected child sex abuse to police or social services providers, despite a state law that requires priests, teachers, medical professionals and others to report recent allegations of abuse.
So no one is going to jail for raping children. Good news:
Over the past year, some parishioners have withheld donations out of fear that the money could be used for abuse lawsuits, and the Twin Cities archdiocese and the Winona diocese are considering filing for bankruptcy, according to documents and interviews with former high-ranking church officials.
However, both Catholic organizations have insurance that will likely cover a significant portion of financial settlements and attorneys’ fees.
And some I-don’t-know-how-this-will-turn-out news:
Attorney Jeff Anderson will announce a settlement agreement Monday in the landmark public nuisance lawsuit against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona, according to a source with knowledge of the announcement.
The settlement will include an agreement for how church officials will handle future allegations of abuse, the source said. Vicar General Charles Lachowitzer and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, both of the Twin Cities archdiocese, are slated to attend the news conference at the Landmark Center in St. Paul. Victims of abuse have also been invited.
I have a sinking feeling that this will be a settlement to the benefit of the church, and you all will get to read about more child-raping scandals in 2030.
Uh-oh. Doesn’t the church have a history of moving rapey priests into indigenous communities? (From memory, I’m thinking of cases involving Alaskan natives). What are the chances that the church knew that Vavra was raping white kids, and they decided it’d be better to give him some less white victims?
If insurance is taking care of the settlement does that mean the rest of us will have our rates go up to make up for what the insurance company pays? And how will the RCC learn anything if it’s not punished for its misdeeds? It’s like committing a crime and sending someone else to jail.
Nick Gotts says
Not directly relevant to this story, but fits the headling: Kenya Catholic Church tetanus vaccine fears ‘unfounded’.
twas brillig (stevem) says
gobsmacked… I suppose: the best teacher is who is guilty of the perversion they teach about, to guard against. Or is he just going to teach them how to do the sex he wants to get from them? So, before, he was just doin the sex-ed on his own time, and now they’ll pay him for it? I think Wright County is misreading [redacted]’s CV, or has mis-written the CV they are looking for.
An Akron televangelist leader wants to hide sex abuse also.
Eamon Knight says
The insurance thing isn’t unmitigated bad news — the insurers are likely to be telling the Church, “Implement some proper prevention and reporting policies, or we’ll be charging you a lot more in premiums, if we insure you at all”.
So Minnesota’s got a mandatory reporter law but can’t be bothered to enforce it even with 50,000 pages of evidences?
Or the RCC has learned not to produce any more pages of evidence so they don’t have any recent evidence of failure to report?
Agreeing with you from a village in Ireland. I don’t seem to be making any friends among the Catholics here, and it’s as much because I give the local doddering priest and his harem of antiquated nuns the cold shoulder when I meet them in town, as it is that my Irish husband (also an atheist) has a “Protestant” last name. There’s so much outrage in the newspapers about the abuses of the Magdalen Laundries and of the Catholic children, but everyone just keeps going to church, same as usual, “oh, that’s terrible, but it can’t happen here, and if it did, it’s over and done now”. I mentioned to someone in town that I doubt the Protestant hands are entirely clean, either, and she recoiled like I’d hit her in the face.
Yeats wrote that Bishop O’Hart freed birds from their cages, comforted the sorrowing, loved books, and was loved by the women and the children. When he died, the birds he freed came to the village to keen for the good man and the way he was mistreated by the rich Protestant British family he had trusted. We can’t rely on the birds, nowadays, to mystically call attention to the wrongs committed by the Church.
I don’t mean to hijack the thread. I suppose I’m just frustrated and upset and this was the time to say something, because there’s nobody else I can say it to. I’m a Yank, an atheist, an immigrant, and the wife of a Protestant, so I’ve been told time and time again “shut up; you’re not from around here; you can’t understand”. But it’s not hard to understand abuse and, as a survivor of abuse myself, I know you don’t have to be culturally sophisticated to respect abused people and take their stories seriously and want to make them safe.
George Peterson says
badgersdaughter: You’ve just described how all this crap keeps happening over and over. The deference to the priests and the church that’s been wormed into people’s brains since they popped out of their mom’s vaginas, combined with the all to common tendency to avoid uncomfortable subjects.
Unfortunately, the only fix is to keep on standing up and speaking out even when it makes you unpopular.
Steve Caldwell says
The Catholic Church’s problems probably won’t affect your insurance rates if you’re not a church. There are insurance companies that cater to the churches and religious organizations (e.g. Church Mutual is one example of this).
So the upshot is… you can buy insurance to pay a settlement if you’re raping kids? Not in name, but in practice? Maybe they should exempt that in the fine print.
MPR has an updated article, covering the terms of the new agreement which terminates the lawsuit. Also, the Archbishop released a statement which they displayed in full.
That’s just sickening. No wonder he gets the big bucks, what with being able to present such a thought without vomiting. There’s also a victim impact statement there.
Jake Harban says
Admittedly, their religion is based on the inherent virtue of doing just that.
All religions are a public nuisance and should be treated as such.
Rcc has a habit of subverting law to protect themselves. Here in Oz we are discovering that the church had a deal with NSW police that avoided reporting anything the church did not want to. They had a police woman on their review committee who rubber stamped their behavior for six years.
CR Jackels says
I live in the heavily catholic populated area of central Minnesota (where I also grew up and was raised catholic) , about an hour northwest of Minneapolis. I have had many arguments with catholics (especially those in my family) about morality and god, being moral without god, etc… Anytime I would bring up the sex abuse scandals they would dismiss them as minor incidents happening in far off places. The Minneapolis/St. Paul Archdiocese scandal has finally made a lot of them realize the severity of the sex abuse within the church. Unfortunately there are still those Bill Donohue types who have made it their job to idiotically defend the church, no matter how disturbing the allegations against it are.