SAINT PAUL, Minn. – A task force composed of lay (non-clerical) Catholics has recommended taking priest sex abuse of children cases out of the hands of the Archbishop and/or Vicar General. Instead, the task force report calls for a lay person to "manage" such allegations.
The task force was created by the new Episcopal Vicar for Ministerial Standards, Fr. Reginald Whitt, in October, 2013. Their task was to investigate how the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis handles cases of child sex abuse at the hands of priests and make recommendations to prevent it.
"This is opening things up," said Dr. Charles Reid, Canon Law Professor at the University of Saint Thomas. "It is a window on all of this. It is bringing in lay people, bringing in people who have independence from the Archdiocese to take a look at this."
However, Reid expressed some concern about having the new "Delegate for Safe Environment" appointed and paid through the Archbishop's payroll.
"My worry there is independence, but the report does indicate that there will be independence achieved by the appointment of an annual audit, "said Reid. "There will be an outside firm that will audit the Archdiocesan behavior every year."
The audit is to check on the effectiveness of the Delegate for Safe Environment.
"We have had, for too long, we have had a culture of secrecy," said Reid. "We have had a culture of carelessness, a culture of closed mindedness, where it came to child abuse with respect to the Archdiocese and the clergy.
"We are seeing a move in this direction because, I think, at the very top of the church we see Pope Francis opening the church up by recognizing that the church is more than simply the priesthood."
Not everyone was applauding the report. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) issued a statement insisting that the report "admits in very 'toned-down' terms what everyone already knows and has known for months or years."
The SNAP statement challenges that the audit would be effective and claims that "no matter how much 'tweaking' Catholic official do, this will remain unchanged, because the church is a rigid, ancient, secretive, self-serving hierarchy."
Suzanne Severson, Board Member of the Child Advocacy group Twin Cities Voice of the Faithful, took exception to a reference early in the 56 page report that "it was a crisis that resulted from the media hoopla that came out after Jennifer Hasselberger went to MPR with the revelations about what was really going on behind closed doors in the Archdiocese," said Severson. "I do not think it was a crisis. I think it was a courageous act which resulted in transparency."
Severson contended that the reports recommendations are simply positions that her group has advocated "for a long time."
As for the Archdiocese, "They were putting the care of children at the bottom of the list and protection of the institution and it's financial health at the top and I think that the report was very clear that this needs to stop."