Attorney: 4 top Catholics bear 'criminal responsibility'

How does the unfolding drama at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis fit with other stories around the country?
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

An attorney who represents victims of child sex abuse named four officials in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who he thinks bear criminal responsibility for failing to report abuse of children by priests.

Mike Finnegan, an attorney with Jeff Anderson and Associates, said the law in Minnesota and across the country requires church officials to notify authorities of even the suspicion of child sex abuse.

"They do have a criminal responsibility under our criminal laws here in Minnesota and in every state across the country to report any suspicions of child sex abuse," Finnegan said. "As soon as they have a suspicion of child sex abuse, under law they are required to report that."

He said that reports by MPR News made clear, in his view, that "the archbishop, the top official, and his lieutenant — any of them that knew and had a suspicion about child sex abuse — could face criminal responsibility.

"I think they are definitely criminally responsible: Archbishop [John] Nienstedt, [former] Vicar General Peter Laird, [former] Vicar General Kevin McDonough, former Archbishop Harry Flynn: all four of those men, I think, face criminal responsibility for their failure to report child sex abuse."

Over the past two months, a series of investigative reports by MPR News has found that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has kept quiet for decades about abusive priests who might have posed a danger to children or vulnerable adults. It has moved priests from job to job and made extra payments to offending priests who took retirement. It has failed to consistently report to parishioners or the authorities what it knew about clergymen with histories of troubled or illegal sexual behavior.

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On Monday, MPR reported that a priest known to have sexually abused children was quietly moved around through parishes in the state.


Twin Cities Archdiocese under Scrutiny
Read the entire collection of articles as published by MPR News.

Abusive priest hid in plain sight for years, retired quietly to New Prague
The archdiocese's handling of [Clarence] Vavra reveals decades of deception by leaders who promised "zero tolerance" for sexual abuse. An MPR News investigation has found that three archbishops — John Roach, Harry Flynn and John Nienstedt — failed to report Vavra to authorities or warn the public. Roach transferred Vavra 11 times in 20 years. Flynn overlooked Vavra's alleged sexual interest in a murderer and in a convicted child rapist, and gave the priest payments above his pension in exchange for agreeing to retire early. Nienstedt stopped the payments, but Vavra continues to live a quiet life in a neighborhood full of children. (MPR News)

Archbishop pledges to release names of priests who sexually abused children
In a reversal of decades-old policy, Archbishop John Nienstedt said he plans to release the names of some priests who have sexually abused children. The list will be limited to living priests who still reside in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and who have been determined by the archdiocese to be guilty of abuse. Nienstedt did not say how many names would be released, and it's unclear if the list would include any priests not already known to the public through lawsuits and media reports. (MPR News)