Thursday, March 31, 2011

How Does Archdiocese of St. Paul-Mpls Handle Sex Abuse Cases?

St. Paul-Minneapolis Chancellor for Civil Affairs Outlines the Policies and Procedures

What happens after an allegation of clergy sexual misconduct is brought to the attention of the archdiocese?

What policies and procedures does the archdiocese follow if the allegation is deemed credible?

Can a clergy member who has committed misconduct that doesn’t involve the abuse of a minor ever be returned to ministry? If so, how is that determination made?

During the last five months, two cases of alleged clergy sexual misconduct involving adults in the archdiocese have been the subject of local media reports. More recently, national reports have focused on the clergy abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The reports have led some to question how the archdiocese handles misconduct cases, particularly if the alleged incident involves another adult.

Andy Eisenzimmer, chancellor for civil affairs, outlined the scope of the archdiocese’s sexual misconduct policies and explained how they are implemented during a March 24 interview with The Catholic Spirit.

The archdiocese’s current policies regarding sexual misconduct are rooted in the provisions outlined in the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” and “Essential Norms,” approved by the U.S. bishops in 2002, as well as its own policies that date back to the late 1980s and were among the first of their kind in the nation.

The local policy was updated most recently in 2007, Eisenzimmer said, to incorporate the requirements of the “Essential Norms.” However, unlike many dioceses and archdioceses, the St. Paul and Minneapolis policy also covers sexual exploitation — defined as sexual contact between a church leader and an adult who is receiving pastoral care from the church leader — and sexual harassment, defined as unwanted sexualized conduct or language between co-workers in the church work setting.

When an allegation is made

When a report of sexual misconduct is brought to the archdiocese, the archbishop initiates an investigation as required by canon law. Should circumstances warrant, the priest or deacon may be temporarily restricted from ministry while the investigation is taking place, Eisenzimmer said.

Under the provisions of the charter, a report involving the abuse of a minor who is still a minor at the time the report is made must be forwarded to law enforcement authorities, Eisenzimmer said.

Minnesota law also has a mandatory reporting requirement. Under the statute, mandated reporters — including teachers, counselors and medical professionals — must report to authorities within 24 hours any knowledge of child abuse or neglect that has occurred within the prior three years.

Clergy members also are mandated reporters unless they receive the information under certain privileged and confidential settings, such as during sacramental confession.

The charter also states that if a diocese receives a report of abuse of a minor, but the person is no longer a minor, the diocese is required to cooperate with authorities if there is an investigation, Eisenzimmer said. These adults choose themselves whether or not they want to report an alleged incident to law enforcement.

“People [may] want to report something to us for a variety of reasons: They may want to get it off their chests, so to speak, because it’s been bothering them for a long time,” he said. “They may be concerned that the person is still in ministry, so sometimes they want to tell you they were abused by someone to make sure that person isn’t in a position to abuse others. . . . They oftentimes don’t want to go to authorities. They don’t want to be part of a police investigation.

“The way the policy is crafted,” he added, “is to try to honor their desire to not, in some instances, report it. But we make sure they understand they are free to report. We also make clear that if they want us to help them in some fashion, we’ll assist them to the extent they would like us to assist them.”

Next steps

What happens after a report of sexual misconduct is made and deemed cred­ible? A variety of factors come into play, Eisenzimmer said.

It may trigger a canonical investigation required by church law, he noted. Certain cases that involve the sexual abuse of minors or other misconduct — such as solicitation in the context of the sacrament of reconciliation — might require a report to the Vatican.

If the alleged perpetrator is still in ministry, the archdiocese typically removes the person from the post — at least temporarily — while it continues to investigate the allegation. The investigation determines if it is necessary to have a trial or other canonical process to determine guilt, at which time disciplinary action can be imposed. If the allegation can’t be substantiated, some effort might be required to restore the good name of the person accused.

When an investigation is initiated, the archdiocese often turns to outside investigators for assistance, he said. But the archdiocese is careful that its own investigation doesn’t interfere with any that law enforcement officials might be conducting.

“Each case will be handled a little bit differently.” Eisenzimmer said. “But we try to investigate quickly and determine the substance of any allegation right from the beginning and try to put some safeguards in place to make sure no further harm can be done to the alleged victim or anyone else. Then, we continue to decide what is the best course of action.”

Those making a report of sexual misconduct are referred to the archdiocesan office of advocacy and victim assistance, which can help them make a report to authorities, arrange counseling and provide financial assistance if needed for therapy.

In cases in which a pastor has been removed from a parish because of misconduct, the archdiocese works with the parishes to answer questions and offer support.

“Frequently there is some kind of meeting to help [parishioners] because we’ve recognized that even if they weren’t harmed individually by that particular member of the clergy, as a parishioner in that parish, there’s harm to everyone,” Eisenzimmer said. “It’s harm to the faith community. So you do really need to address that. There’s going to be anger and hurt. And there’s going to be a healing process.”

Return to ministry?

When sexual misconduct is substantiated or admitted on the part of clergy members, they are referred for psychological and psychiatric evaluation, treatment and aftercare, Eisenzimmer said.

If the case involves sexual abuse of a minor, the charter and the archdiocese’s policies preclude a return to ministry.

In cases of sexual misconduct that don’t involve child abuse, a return to ministry is possible in certain instances if treatment is deemed successful, Eisen­zimmer said.

“Our current policy does allow for a possibility of a return to ministry in some fashion,” he said. “What ministry that might be will depend on a host of circumstances, and it’s something that’s never contemplated until there are a variety of steps taken.”

One of those steps is getting a positive evaluation from therapists, Eisenzimmer said. For many years, the archdiocese has received two clergy evaluations — one by a therapist chosen by the archdiocese to provide an objective evaluation, and another by a therapist who is working closely with the clergy member as a part of treatment.

“We try to gather information from both sources — in essence a double check on what we can do with this person following a successful conclusion of any therapeutic process,” Eisenzimmer said.

If the therapists offer a positive report, the archbishop and others he consults must decide what, if any, assignment is appropriate. Typically, before any reassignment is made, the matter goes be-fore the Clergy Review Board, an advisory body to the archbishop that makes its own recommendations, said Eisen­zimmer, who is staff liaison to the board.

The “Essential Norms” require that each diocese have an independent review board to review accusations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. However, the archdiocese has had a review board in place since 1995, and its scope is broader than the national requirement, allowing the board to also review cases involving clergy accused of sexual misconduct with adults.

Current members include two priests, a deacon who is a lawyer, another lawyer, a psychiatrist, a nurse educator at the University of Minnesota, social worker, psychologist, trauma surgeon and a retired University of Minnesota faculty member. Past members have included law enforcement officials, abuse victims and family members of victims.

Clergy Review Board members may ask for additional information or steps to be taken if they feel it is necessary before making a recommendation to the archbishop about whether a clergy member who has committed sexual misconduct can return to ministry, Eisenzimmer said.

The board may make additional recommendations for returning clergy members to ministry, such as insisting they continue to participate in an aftercare program. Board members also may recommend to what extent the misconduct should be disclosed publicly, Eisenzimmer said.

“Ultimately, it’s the archbishop’s role to make the decision,” he said. “But in virtually every case that I’ve seen, the archbishop has accepted the recommendation of the Clergy Review Board.”

Review, safe environments Eisenzimmer stresses that the archdiocese evaluates its policies and practices regarding sexual misconduct on an ongoing basis to ensure they are consistent with national best practices, the need for transparency, victims’ needs, community needs and the needs of the accused.

Over the years, policies and procedures have been changed and updated as the issue of sexual abuse has become better understood, he said.

“I will tell you from my own experience back in the 1970s that the therapeutic community said you could put priests back in ministry that had sexually abused minors,” he said. “You’re not going to find a therapeutic advocate . . . today that’s going to say that.”

In the last decade the Catholic Church has taken a lead role in addressing child sexual abuse and instituting safe environment programs to educate children and adults about the issue, which affects all segments of society, he said.

“What I’ve learned, especially this last decade, is that there’s no one doing more about it than the Catholic Church,” Eisenzimmer said. “We don’t get any credit for that, and maybe we don’t deserve any credit because of our failures in the past. But we have instituted procedures where we do criminal background checks on all clergy, all employees and any volunteers that have regular, ongoing contact with children.”

That amounts to 83,000 people, according to Rita Beatty, who helps coordinate the archdiocese’s safe environment program.

All students enrolled in Catholic elementary and secondary schools and those in parish religious education programs are educated on age-appropriate safe environment matters, Eisenzimmer added. Church employees and volunteers are also required to undergo safe environment training.

As a result of such training and the archdiocese’s misconduct policies, “We can safely say that today there’s no clergy in a ministerial position who have been credibly accused of child abuse,” Eisenzimmer said. “We know that for certain.”

As part of the national charter, the archdiocese and the other dioceses in the United States undergo an annual independent audit of their policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the charter’s provisions.
The audit is conducted on site once every three years; in the other years independent investigators gather data and a variety of other information, Eisenzim­mer said.

In turn, the archdiocese audits each of its locations — including all of its parishes and schools — twice a year, he said. In the fall, the archdiocese asks for plans for the school year regarding what will be done in compliance with safe environment and charter requirements. The spring audit shows what was accomplished.

Eisenzimmer said he has no argument with the public for holding the Catholic Church to a higher level of scrutiny when it comes to sexual misconduct. But he also adds that the church should get the credit it deserves for addressing the topic in the comprehensive way it has.

“Our belief is that preventing child abuse has become a core mission of this church,” he said. “It has to be. And we see the value of that broader than just in the church. There’s a community value to that. And if we want to fulfill that core mission, we have to continue to emphasize that we are ourselves following what we’re preaching, that we’re practicing what we’re preaching. We think that’s as important of a task as we can fulfill these days.” The Catholic Spirit

For more information

» Read more about the archdiocese’s Protection of Children and Youth Initiative.

» To contact Greta Sawyer, director of advocacy and victim assistance, call (651) 291-4497.

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