Former Archdiocese official pushes for independent review of priest files

Jennifer Haselberger
Jennifer Haselberger is the former top canon lawyer for the archdiocese. She resigned in April.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

A former official of the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis on Saturday called for an external review of the church's files on abusive priests.

In a publicly released statement, Jennifer Haselberger asked Archbishop John Nienstedt to allow an independent review of clergy files and "make public the list of clergy who have been determined to have engaged in acts of sexual misconduct, as well as those whom could reasonably be assumed to pose a threat to children and young people."

She added, "Until this occurs, I do not believe that it can be said that the Archdiocese is honoring its promise to protect." Haselberger has been at the center of two investigative reports by MPR News about the archdiocese's handling of allegations against two priests.

More coverage of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Haselberger worked at the Roman Catholic archdiocese from Aug. 18, 2008 to April 30, 2013. She said she resigned in April because of concerns about the handling of clergy sexual abuse, allegations of abuse, and other matters.

Haselberger said she resigned because she concluded that it was, "impossible for me to continue in that position given my personal ethics, religious convictions, and sense of integrity."

Haselberger told MPR News that her internal complaints led to conflict with senior officials who called her belligerent and difficult.

The archdiocese confirmed with MPR News that Haselberger voluntarily resigned in April. On Thursday, Tom Wieser, an attorney who represents the archdiocese, called Haselberger a "disgruntled former employee" at a Ramsey County hearing about clergy sexual abuse.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday afternoon.

Haselberger began providing MPR News in July with information about clergy sexual abuse and her efforts to change what she saw as immoral practices. In an MPR News report on Sept. 23, Haselberger recounted how top church leaders knew of sexual misconduct by the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer for several years and did not tell parishioners. Wehmeyer was later convicted of sexually abusing two boys and possessing child pornography.

Haselberger also detailed her involvement in a pornography case involving the Rev. Jonathan Shelley. She said the archdiocese failed to report what she believed to be child pornography to police, which prompted her to go to the authorities this year. A subsequent police investigation did not uncover any child pornography on the materials the archdiocese provided to police. However, lead investigator Sgt. William Gillet questioned in his report whether he received all evidence from the archdiocese.

Shelley and an attorney for the archdiocese denied that the computer contained child pornography. At the Thursday hearing, Wieser, the attorney, called Haselberger "imprudent and unsophisticated" for her involvement in the Shelley matter.

Haselberger, 38, previously worked as the bishop's delegate for canonical affairs for the Diocese of Fargo and as the chancellor and director for the Diocese of Crookston. In Crookston, Haselberger also oversaw the diocese's "Safe Environment" program, which aims to prevent child abuse and respond appropriately to allegations.

She graduated from the College of St. Catherine in Minnesota and later received a doctoral degree in philosophy from the University of London and a degree in canon law from Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national advocacy group, has called for a grand jury investigation of archdiocese's handling of clergy sexual abuse allegations.

Jeff Anderson, a prominent attorney representing victims of sexual abuse, has called for a similar investigation.