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Jennifer Haselberger was ignored, bullied before blowing whistle on archdiocese, records show

Jennifer Haselberger was ignored, bullied before blowing whistle on archdiocese, records show
Artwork by Martin Ontiveros

-- Update at bottom with a statement from archdiocese --

In 2002, American Catholic bishops began making new demands on local dioceses: no more moving offenders to less public positions, and no more harboring of information.

It was a nice sentiment. But as Vicar General Kevin McDonough would later explain to his colleagues in private conference, it wasn't the way things worked in St. Paul.

See also:
Kevin McDonough, former vicar general, refused to cooperate with police investigations

This and many other stories like it can be found in the 120-page affidavit made public today on Jeff Anderson's website by Jennifer Haselberger, a former canon attorney and victims advocate. It is the closest look yet at the inner workings of the archdiocese and portrays a devout Catholic who for seven years was ignored, marginalized and bullied for trying to warn her superiors about sexually deviant men.

The consequence of McDonough's see-no-evil attitude could be found everywhere in the archdiocese. Consider the monitoring program of credibly accused priests, which ran primarily on the principle of self-policing. Haselberger says one priest with a long history of allegations, going back to the 1960s, simply refused to comply. So nobody bothered him.

The record system was equally screwy. Personnel files of priests were scattered among departments and the really important ones hidden in the vaults of clerics or their attorneys. Haselberger says she once proposed digitizing everything, but got shot down.

When she began reopening old cases, her counterpart, Andrew Eisenzimmer, she says, was fond of telling her that she needed to "stop looking under rocks." She remembers him storming out of the office once when she confronted him with images of kiddie porn found on one priest's computer.

But no one looks worse in the affidavit than Peter Laird, the priest who replaced McDonough as vicar general. Haselberger recalls how Laird, between 2010 and 2012, replaced nearly half of the archival space with a new lounge and office for his beefed up communications department.

His brilliant next move: buy dumpsters and throw the old records out.

Their relationship soured. Laird excluded her from meetings and kept her away from abuse allegations. Besides burdening her day with menial tasks and impossible deadlines, Laird went so far as to suspend Haselberger for going over his head to complain.

Through it all, top clerics held to their guns, claiming publicly that the ministry was rid of troubled priests when they knew that wasn't the case. Archbishop John Nienstedt appears in the affidavit as a shrewd tactician who used his power only for the good of the hierarchy.

For instance, when some priests began calling for policy revision, in the wake of Curtis Wehmeyer's incarceration, Nienstedt responded that they were "overreacting." When he began appointing people to the "safe environment working group," he passed over a priest who used to be a prosecutor.

"The Church is not a democracy," Haselberger writes, "and had there been any serious desire to implement change, it could have been done quickly and easily with the stroke of a single pen."

By April 2013, Haselberger had had enough. She resigned and three months later, called Minnesota Public Radio. Reports by Madeleine Baran and her colleagues led to the resignation of Laird.

On Monday, MPR released an hour-long documentary that looks back at the last year and beyond -- through decades of half-apologies and guile, well before Haselberger's arrival. Every scandal since the 1980s has been met with the same slogan: Things are different now. Trust us.

::: UPDATE  :::

Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens released a statement this afternoon, saying,

(Haselberger's) recollections are not always shared by others within the archdiocese. However, Ms. Haselberger's experience highlights the importance of ongoing constructive dialogue and reform aimed at insuring the safety of children.
Click through to the next page to read the statement in full.

 

Today, it was brought to our attention that Jennifer Haselberger, former Chancellor of Canonical Affairs for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, provided an affidavit in the case of Doe 1, which is a civil lawsuit against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Diocese of Winona, and Thomas Adamson. Thomas Adamson was accused of abusing Doe 1 in 1976 - 1977, decades before Ms. Haselberger's service to the archdiocese.

This affidavit provides a more detailed account of Ms. Haselberger's perspective of events at the archdiocese, which she has already shared publicly during the past year. Her recollections are not always shared by others within the archdiocese. However, Ms. Haselberger's experience highlights the importance of ongoing constructive dialogue and reform aimed at insuring the safety of children.

Since Ms. Haselberger's departure, we have begun the implementation of the Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force Recommendations which address some of the concerns she has raised. We continue to take concrete steps toward greater transparency and accountability in protecting children while offering hope and healing to victims.


-- Send story tips to the author or follow him on Twitter @marxjesse

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