'I wanted to put a stop to it'
July 24, 2014 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Betrayed by Silence — In a four part investigation, MPR News details the cover up of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Chapter 1: It all began in Lafayette
"The story is that when they sent Archbishop Flynn to Louisiana, he had a driver take him to every family where there had been a victim," the Rev. Jim Wiesner, who served as a priest in Minneapolis in the 1990s, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "He was spit on, thrown in the mud. When people asked him, 'Why did you keep doing that?' he said, 'To give them an opportunity to voice their anger.'"

News organizations, including the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, repeated similar claims without verifying them. When U.S. bishops selected Flynn to lead their response to the national clergy abuse scandal, a Star Tribune editorial praised the selection as a sign that the church was serious about reform.

Flynn became the face of the church's response. He led the committee that wrote the church's policy, called the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. His background gave the Catholic Church tremendous credibility at a moment of crisis.

There was just one problem. The story wasn't true.

Chapter 2: The church protects its own
By the time the deposition ended, [attorney Jeff] Anderson was certain that [Archbishop] Roach was lying. After everyone left, Anderson turned to his assistant. "This whole thing stinks. This is like Watergate. I feel like I'm talking to Richard Nixon."

Anderson kept digging and the contradictions piled up. Some of the deceit was obvious. Watters, the Winona bishop, admitted under oath that Carlson had given him advice on how to handle a deposition: "The best thing you can say is, 'I don't remember.'"

Chapter 3: Archbishop makes vow, breaks it
When the national scandal broke in 2002, the archdiocese had at least 11 abusive priests in ministry. At least another nine accused priests had retired, moved to other states or worked in administrative jobs.

Flynn wanted all of the men to remain in the priesthood — and he didn't want the public to find out. He asked McDonough to persuade abusers to retire quietly for "medical reasons" or transfer to less prominent assignments.

One of the most generous deals went to the Rev. Gilbert Gustafson, who had pleaded guilty in 1983 to sexually abusing a boy.

In a secret, legally binding agreement, Flynn declared Gustafson medically disabled.

Chapter 4: Cover-up unravels from the inside
"When I arrived here seven years ago, one of the first things I was told was that this whole question of clerical sexual abuse had been taken care of, I didn't have to worry about it," [Archbishop] Nienstedt told reporters in December. "Unfortunately, I believed that."

However, hundreds of memos and dozens of interviews show that, within weeks of his arrival, Nienstedt learned that his predecessors had violated Vatican rules on clergy sexual abuse cases and hadn't reported abuse to police. He also learned that the archdiocese had ignored Vatican rules on church finances.

Nienstedt chose not to reveal the cover-up. Instead, he contributed to it.

The investigation builds on a radio documentary that aired July 14, 2014. More coverage can be found here.

source notes, via
posted by supermassive (17 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

MPR's relentless work on this story makes me so proud to be a member. Seriously, this is old-school investigative journalism at its finest. Also, I haven't done a survey or anything, but MPR seems to be one of the only major media outlets that calls it what it is - "Rape".
posted by Think_Long at 12:00 PM on July 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Absolutely incredible read. Thanks for posting.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:12 PM on July 24, 2014

It's great that MPR is pursuing this story so doggedly. Thanks for posting this, supermassive.
posted by zarq at 12:16 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

This makes me really sad as a Catholic raised in that diocese -- for all the people hurt back then, and for all those still being denied their chance, and for the believers who would like their church back from the men whose cover-up keeps this wound open.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:46 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just wonder how it could all happen, how no one had the courage for so long to call out the growing cover up.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:03 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anderson wasn't sure where to start. He'd never heard of a priest raping a child

This keeps getting reiterated in these stories, and it seems so weird to me. I mean everybody knew, when I was growing up, that priests (and ministers) abused kids, and the general consensus [among non-expert children and teens talking about this stuff] was that with Catholics they abused mostly boys, and with Protestants it was girls as often. It was just something you knew. It wasn't, of course, something you expected would change - just one of those large institutional issues that seemed so intractable at the time, because it seemed like since everyone knew, it must not be something that could be changed. I have to admit, I've been surprised as hell that anyone has actually done anything about it.
posted by Frowner at 1:19 PM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I just wonder how it could all happen, how no one had the courage for so long to call out the growing cover up.

Except...I don't actually know anyone who was a victim of these priests, even secondhand. And a lot of these names are so familiar to me because my family was active in parish and diocesan activities: when I talked to my mom on the phone, she would be mentioning the bishop, priests, and officials who had been at Guild of Catholic Women events or visiting their Christmas Program at the Dorothy Day shelter, or whatever.

So some of us really were surprised when this broke. But I can't even imagine what kind of person would contribute to the cover-up once they knew, ugh.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:33 PM on July 24, 2014

Man, that's just... horrifying. And totally believable, because that's how institutions work. They protect themselves, because their mission (as they see it) is just far more important than addressing, correcting, or preventing any damage they might cause along the way.
posted by suelac at 1:34 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

In 1987, the archdiocese was home to at least 25 priests now suspected of sexually abusing children. The archdiocese's Boy Scouts program was run by an accused pedophile. He got the job when another abusive priest left.

Yeah, it's just this kind of thing happening over and over again. This is awesome investigative journalism, but I have to keep taking breaks from reading it, because it's just so awful. My Catholic childhood took place in the 70s and early 80s, before I bugged out for good, but I honestly don't recall ever hearing a whisper about anything like this. And then some quick Googling shows a few accusations (and one admission of guilt) from the Archdiocese my parish was in.
posted by skybluepink at 1:52 PM on July 24, 2014

These articles do a great job showing how important lawyers are in fighting for victims and exposing the Church's coverups. Attorneys like Jeff Anderson are critical in fighting injustice when even government prosecutors fail to show interest. I feel people too often forget this and it's nice to be reminded.
posted by ryanrs at 2:20 PM on July 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

But I can't even imagine what kind of person would contribute to the cover-up once they knew, ugh.

My paternal grandfather was a child molester. He victimized several girls, including some family members. His wife knew about it all along (and this went on for some 30 years) but never said a word, because they were both very active in the Baptist church and she didn't want the family name to be tarnished. It's only because one of the girls in the family talked, and then another followed, that this was all exposed and he went to jail. He's been dead for a while now (good riddance), but to this day, she denies that she did anything wrong.

She still faithfully goes to church every Sunday.
posted by xedrik at 4:56 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I mean everybody knew, when I was growing up, that priests (and ministers) abused kids

Yeah, I grew up Catholic and "everybody knew" that priests abused kids and were just shuffled off to another parish to do it again. When it first became a big news story, I was a little surprised, because I assumed it was very widely known.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:48 PM on July 24, 2014

And in retrospect it's messed up that the "everyone" who did "know", just... tolerated the situation!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:49 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

What phenomenal reporting. Like others I had to take several breaks reading this as it was so upsetting. I admire ms.Haselberger so much for going against the church and following her faith. I'm not religious but that woman should be sainted - and the lawyer Jeff Anderson as well.
posted by biggreenplant at 10:49 AM on July 25, 2014

Apart from the military, I can't imagine any other organization in the US being allowed to operate like this.
posted by Legomancer at 12:53 PM on July 25, 2014

I've only read the first two parts, but the captions of some of the photos lead to this, which allows you to search by clergy, parish, hospital or school. Before I found the search tool, I was reading quickly, looking for churches or clergy I knew.

I was in Catholic school and an avid churchgoer in the 80s and 90s; the two priests who were in charge of my elementary school while I was there are both on the list. I'd heard rumors, but no one was sure. They're both dead and I wonder if they ever figured out that they were wrong. Recognizing and asking forgiveness* for your sins is such a vital part of the faith. It would almost make more sense to me if the church leaders were emphasizing that they had done that. The priests in the articles so far just don't seem to get it. There's some effort at reform, but it seems to skip over the important "I was wrong and I'm sorry." step.
I, too, don't know that I know anyone who was abused, but with a big Catholic family and 13 years of Catholic school, I know hundreds of people who trusted or were entrusted to these men, which is really scary. It's such a betrayal.

*You only have to ask God, not the people you sinned against.
posted by MsDaniB at 1:02 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

MsDaniB, i went to that link and found a guy I went to (I think) high school with. *shudder* That's as close as I came, though: a peer, and not a person who would have been in a position to abuse their power over me.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:00 AM on July 28, 2014

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