Twin Cities Catholics react to news about church leaders, priests

Rosary procession
With the St. Paul skyline in the background, participants in a rosary procession walk along John Ireland Boulevard from the State Capitol to the Cathedral of Saint Paul Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Catholics in the Twin Cities have a wide range of reactions to recent news about the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis -- including an MPR News report that the archdiocese knew about a priest's sexual misconduct but failed to remove him from ministry, and the subsequent resignation of the top deputy of the archdiocese.

About 600 Catholics gathered for the annual Candlelight Rosary Procession from the State Capitol to the Cathedral of St. Paul Friday.

Greg Holupchinski of St. Paul said the recent revelations were unfortunate.

"It's too bad that when you hear about the church in the news it's either that we have a new pope or we have a few errant priests," Holupchinski said. "One bad apple seems to spoil the bunch sometimes."

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Holupchinski said Catholics understand that the church is filled with sinners, but that he'd like to see more transparency from its leaders.

Rosary procession
Sister Genevieve, center, a member of the Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver, waits for a rosary procession to begin Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 at the State Capitol in St. Paul. Participants walked to the Cathedral of Saint Paul for a service honoring the Virgin Mary
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"The longer you keep it under wraps, the more negative effects there are going to be over time," Holupchinski said.

A Sept. 23 MPR News story reported that the archdiocese kept the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer in ministry despite knowledge of his sexual misconduct.

The Rev. Peter Laird, the top deputy of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis resigned Thursday, saying he hoped that his resignation would help "repair the trust of many, especially the victims of abuse."

While waiting for the procession to start, Kathy Fink of Minneapolis said she'd pray that the church resolve its issues.

"It's sad, but since the beginning of time there's been a lot of problems, and our whole goal in life is to become saints and get to heaven," Fink said. "That's the bottom line, is to help each other in whatever problems we have, and to look at the good. Always the good."

Other Catholics in the Twin Cities said they felt betrayed by the archdiocese.

Sara Fleetham, faith formation coordinator for the Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale, said she works hard to do background checks and screen volunteers to ensure that children are safe. But recent news surrounding the archdiocese has shaken her confidence that the chancery is as serious with its approach to rooting out sexual misconduct among priests.

"The system is broken," Fleetham said. "It's completely broken and it doesn't work and something has to be done."

Fleetham said she has deep distrust of the archdiocese.

"It feels as if we, as in church workers, are getting kicked in the face repeatedly because this is so wrong on so many levels, because it's not getting fixed," Fleetham said.

Joe McLean has three children in school at the Church of the Annunciation in Minneapolis. He said he's concerned that the negative publicity will cause harm to the school.

"The heart and soul is the community that comes to support the kids," McLean said. "Whatever happens with the Catholic Church that draws negative attention makes their job ten times harder."

Several blocks away from Friday night's procession, the Cathedral Heritage Foundation was holding a gala fundraiser at the Saint Paul Hotel. The fundraiser was part of a capital campaign to renovate the Cathedral of St. Paul, the seat of the archdiocese.

Corey Helland of Crystal attended the $150 per person dinner and auction, and said he was prepared to spend up to $1,000. Helland, a Lutheran, was not concerned that his money will go to a building owned by the archdiocese.

"I really choose to give to the cathedral as more of a monument to the city, rather than as religious giving," Helland said. "I would never really give money to support the church itself, I'd rather support my own church."

The archdiocese released a statement saying an MPR News investigation into clergy sex abuse is "incomplete and leaves a false impression about the commitment of the archdiocese to identify and address misconduct by priests."

They did not return calls seeking additional comment.