Archbishop Nienstedt will hire firm for external review of clergy files

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt
Archbishop John C. Nienstedt at his office in St. Paul, Minn., Monday, Oct. 18, 2010.
Craig Lassig/AP

Archbishop John Nienstedt said he will hire an outside firm to examine whether any priests in ministry pose a danger to children.

Writing in his weekly column, Nienstedt said he ordered the review after reading recent media reports and hearing from "so many Catholic faithful" that there is "real fear that some priests in ministry today constitute a danger to children."

He said would never knowingly allow such a situation and decided to order a review of all clergy files by an outside firm.

The announcement comes after intense scrutiny over how Nienstedt has handled clergy misconduct in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. An MPR News investigation has found that church officials disregarded concerns over priest misconduct over the past 10 years.

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"The first thing that must be acknowledged is that over the last decade some serious mistakes have been made," Nienstedt wrote Thursday. "There is reason to question whether or not the policies and procedures were uniformly followed. There is also a question as to the prudence of the judgments that have been made."

Nienstedt didn't identify the outside firm that would review clergy files. Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said they are interviewing several professional firms "that work in the area of clergy file review on a national basis." The reviewers will have no prior relationship with the archdiocese, Accurso said.

Nienstedt also said insights from psychology, sociology and forensic sciences need to play a role in the church's response to clergy abuse. "We must learn from what has gone wrong in the past and avoid any repeat of that in the future," he said.

The archbishop's decision has prompted a North St. Paul priest in North St. Paul to reverse his call for a change in leadership. Father Bill Deziel had called for change in his weekly church bulletin.

"I believe that the independent work of the task force combined with the review of all clergy files by an outside firm will encourage many concerned faithful to regain their trust and confidence in our archdiocesan leadership," Deziel said in a statement he emailed to MPR News.