Judge: Archdiocese has met obligations to protect children from abuse

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Ramsey County District Attorney Jon Choi and Archdiocese officials
Ramsey County District Attorney Jon Choi, at podium, and Archdiocese officials hold a press conference on Tuesday after the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis submitted its final progress report on tightened clergy abuse protocols to a Ramsey County District judge at the Ramsey County Attorney's office in St. Paul.
Anthony Souffle | Star Tribune via AP

A settlement that required the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to create safeguards to prevent child abuse by clergy will be lifted as of Feb. 1. A Ramsey County District Court judge said Tuesday that the archdiocese has met its obligations stemming from the 2015 deal with the county’s prosecutors.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda vowed that the church would continue to work with abuse survivors, lay people and the county attorney’s office to make the church safer for young people.

“Addressing sexual abuse in our church is a duty that will never cease,” Hebda said. “We have learned that vigilant prevention is never a distraction from the work of the church, rather it is intimately related to the work of the church, which is preaching the gospel and manifesting God’s love in the world.”

Jon Choi and Archdiocese officials at a press conference.
Ramsey County District Attorney Jon Choi, left, and Archdiocese officials hold a press conference on Tuesday.
Anthony Souffle | Star Tribune via AP

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi pointed to eight status reports and three outside audits that found that the archdiocese is compliant with the agreement.

Choi said the archdiocese exceeded the accord’s stated goals “to ensure that we had accountability, to have justice for the victims of our community and then, most importantly because I think this is what matters about moving forward, is that this never happens again to anyone.”

Three of Joy Hoffman’s sons were abused by Curtis Wehmeyer, former priest. She thanked archdiocese and Ramsey County Attorney’s Office for their roles in the collaboration, and acknowledged her son’s “courage and perseverance” to be sure justice is done.

"It has brought us an instance of healing, a sense of hope and an assurance that nothing like this will happen again, and that we have safety in our parish communities,” Hoffman said.

Wehmeyer pleaded guilty in 2012 to criminal sexual conduct with two minors and possession of child pornography.

The archdiocese has hosted restorative justice events for abuse survivors, implemented more transparent structures for reporting allegations of abuse and placed lay people in positions of oversight.

Choi said the process was “adversarial” at first, but became more collaborative once Hebda officially replaced former Archbishop John Nienstedt. Nienstedt resigned in 2015 after reports the archdiocese covered up payments to priests accused of sexual abuse. After the archdiocese admitted to wrongdoing in court in 2016, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office dismissed the criminal charges.

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office also interviewed more than 50 people involved with the archdiocese to understand whether practices had actually changed. The office found substantial improvement, and that “aspects of change appear to be embedded within the organization as routine.”

“Certainly, the archdiocese has gone well beyond the actual terms of the settlement,” Choi said. “I believe that the archdiocese under this current leadership is really committed to that deep systemic and cultural change that they’ve embedded throughout the organization.”

Still, the county attorney’s office has a number of recommendations they’d like to see the archdiocese implement in the future, including identifying members of ministerial review boards and more outreach to lay people in the church.

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