Archdiocese complies with abuse settlement, work still to do

Offering box
An offering box near the front door at the Cathedral of Saint Paul Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013 in St. Paul, Minn.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR 2013

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis remains in compliance with its agreement with prosecutors to take a series of affirmative steps to protect children from sexual abuse, officials said.

Church officials and prosecutors reached a settlement last December calling for substantial cultural changes within the church after the archdiocese was accused of mishandling an abuse case involving former priest Curtis Wehmeyer. Church officials provided an update on their progress Tuesday to Ramsey County Chief Judge Teresa Warner, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

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Two church officials who deal with child protection told Warner that nearly 90,000 adults have undergone background checks and training on how to ensure that children are safe in church-related settings. The 187 parishes, 92 schools and two seminaries that belong to the archdiocese are required to comply with the settlement.

"So we have 90,000 sets of eyes and ears out there watching to make sure kids are safe," said Timothy O'Malley, the archdiocese's director of ministerial standards and safe environment.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, who attended the hearing, has completed the child-protection training.

"I was really happy to see this is what our people throughout the archdiocese are receiving," Hebda said. "It really just raises the bar in terms of our attentiveness to the issues that are there. It's certainly a huge undertaking."

The Ramsey County attorney's office, which has been monitoring how the archdiocese followed through on its commitments, and the judge found the archdiocese to be in "significant compliance" with the settlement.

Warner said she was pleased that the archdiocese acknowledged its work is not complete.

The settlement calls for reviews every six months for three years; the third review is scheduled for June 16. Criminal charges against the archdiocese over its handling of the Wehmeyer case were dropped in July when Hebda delivered a public admission of wrongdoing. The bankruptcy case against the archdiocese stemming from the broader abuse scandal is pending.