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MPR News

Advocate, reporter discuss archdiocese project

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A Catholic church in Cedar Lake Township: The Twin Cities archdiocese has been a subject of an MPR News investigation.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

MPR News published a list Wednesday of 70 Catholic clergy in the Twin Cities archdiocese who have been accused or suspected of sexually abusing children. The list contains more names than the archdiocese had revealed publicly. 

The material published Wednesday was the latest installment in a months-long investigation by MPR News, led by reporter Madeleine Baran. 

Scroll down to read a response from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Baran and Patrick Wall, a victims' advocate working on sexual abuse cases, joined The Daily Circuit Thursday to talk about the MPR series and the issues it raises. Highlights of their conversation:

Madeleine Baran, reporter, on the goal of her series:
"We're not trying to say whether or not a priest is guilty. It's not our job to say whether a crime has been committed. But what we did want to do is look at where there was information that there were allegations, that they were investigated by either the police or the archdiocese, or found in a court record or court exhibits - those were the cases we were interested in. ... There are cases, a couple we report on, where the investigation by the archdiocese is fascinating in terms of the parameters they're using. They're basically looking at, 'Can we substantiate this or not?' In a lot of cases of child sexual abuse, whether it's within the church or elsewhere, if someone comes forward decades later, there is not often direct evidence of that. It's not like there's a crime scene, video, or DNA, or fingerprints. So it's a very difficult standard for these victims to meet when they come forward. What I found at least in the last 10 years is the archdiocese will say, 'Go to the police.' That's their policy. And if the police determine that they can't charge it, then that's very important to the archdiocese. But it doesn't really address this issue of whether or not the archdiocese should be concerned." 

Patrick Wall, former monk, on secret church records:
"The directives from Rome are very clear, both through motu proprio  from the holy father and the code of canon law, that these documents are to be kept in perpetuity, especially the most important files, the files on the priests. And the idea behind that is that the next bishop who comes into office, the next vicar general who comes into office, can get a quick read as to what that priest was all about, and so they can have access to what that bishop at the time knew and what they decided to do on that particular issue. It doesn't matter if it's the Archdiocese of St. Paul, or Bogota, or Buenos Aires, it's the same standard of how they keep records around the world. This is a management technique that Rome has developed over a couple of thousand years. ... This is never to be accessible to the public. The code is very clear. That's why they call this a secret archive. Only the bishop and the chancellor have access to this .... Under no circumstances ever are bishops to turn over documents to prosecutors and/or lawyers." 

Baran on sex abuse outside the church:
"This isn't a problem that is limited to the Catholic Church. The project I was working on right before this project was about this boarding school in southern Minnesota, Shattuck-St. Mary's, that had this sexual abuse scandal of their own with a teacher that had worked there, this man Lynn Seibel, who was convicted. And then of course our reporting into the Boy Scouts, as well, who had what are being referred to as 'the perversion files,' where they were keeping these meticulous records on the scout leaders who they had kicked out for allegedly abusing children."

Wall on the image of the clergy:
"There's a higher standard. They put themselves forward as a holy and universal institution, so that their standard is perfect celibacy, perfect chastity, that there will be no sexual activity by the clergy at all. So there is a different standard that they promote and publish out there, that a guy walking around in a Roman collar is sexually safe and that you can trust that particular individual. And again, it's the years of silence and the years of not being honest and straightforward about this, that now, as it all comes forward, is damaging to people. But it's also the exact same thing in the Boy Scout cases that we're working on. The perversion files are stunning because it's the same methodology of record-keeping that the Roman Catholic Church has, where all of the perpetrators' names were kept, and as they were transferred and moved to different places, and sometimes changed their name a bit, all those records were kept. I've got 30-some boxes of perversion files in my office just on the Boy Scouts and the activities in Minnesota alone. ... " 

Wall on why the church would keep secret records:
"It's unexplainable. Being in the church it made sense to me that we would keep all those records. But being apart from it now for 20 years and working on the survivors' side for 20 years, it still boggles my mind, and now as a parent, that all that information is available and none of that information was shared with the public."

READ THE MPR NEWS SERIES, BETRAYED BY SILENCE

READ THE ARCHDIOCESE RESPONSE:

On Wednesday, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis released a statement responding to the most recent MPR News report: