Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Grant Gallicho on Archdiocese of Wobegon: Nienstedt's Anti-Gay Record, Jennifer Haselberger and Women's Role in Church

I highly recommend Grant Gallicho's exhaustively researched and incisively written account at Commonweal of what's happening right now in the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese. Since I wrote about this story a week or so ago (though not with the depth and clarity that Gallicho brings to it), I won't summarize it again. I do recommend that anyone interested in it, and in the abuse crisis in the Catholic church in the U.S., read Gallicho's posting carefully.

Here's a paragraph that leaps out in Gallicho's piece:

But Nienstedt did not heed her [i.e., Jennifer Haselberger, chancellor for canonical affairs'] advice [i.e., about Rev. Jonathan Shelley]. Indeed, he was still considering whether to give this priest who he believed to have possessed "borderline illegal" photos a pastoral assignment. Why? And why did he promote Wehmeyer to pastor after being informed of his long history of totally unacceptable, indeed dangerous behavior? Nienstedt's service as archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been distinguished by an energetic, and expensive, campaign against gay marriage. He recently told a crowd of "influential," wealthy Catholics that sodomy and pornography were the work of Satan--that they threatened the stability of our civilization. No one could accuse him of failing to take those issues seriously. Except, perhaps, those who take stock of his failures to act in these two cases.

And, of course, that paragraph leaps out because, once again, that contingent of American Catholics for whom the abuse crisis is all about gay priests molesting minors is hard at work spinning the stories emerging from the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis as further "proof" that the abuse crisis has happened because bishops soft on the gays have protected gay priests abusing teenaged boys. If we can just rid ourselves of the gays, we won't have this problem on our hands any longer.

Though the stories now emerging from St. Paul-Minneapolis include one in which a woman has filed suit against Rev. Thomas Keating of the University of St. Thomas, alleging that he abused her when she was a teenager and he a seminary student  . . . . And though, as Grant Gallicho points out, far from being soft on the gays, Archbishop Nienstedt, who is now being accused of having sheltered a number of priests he knew to be abusing minors, is staunchly anti-gay, and has, in fact, led a veritable crusade against gay people and gay rights in his state . . . . 

As I noted several weeks ago (and here) when the same set of U.S. Catholics now spinning the Minnesota stories as new "proof" that gays are responsible for the abuse crisis read even the story of Rev. Sean Ratigan, a priest sent to prison for producing pornographic photos of little girls, as proof of their anti-gay thesis, there's simply no rational way to engage those who have long since decided that the abuse crisis is all about gay priests molesting teenaged boys. Their determination to lay the abuse crisis at the feet of gay priests goes far beyond rational explanation or sound empirical data.

It's all about prejudice, about linking homosexuality (male homosexuality, in particular) to child abuse, and about keeping that linkage alive. It's about keeping that linkage alive in the name of Catholic faith, since, for this set of Catholics, gay is the opposite of Catholic, and open, self-affirming gay folks are to be kept out of the Catholic community at all cost. 

In the discussion thread following Grant Gallicho's article, I like Jim Jenkins's observation about the role that Jennifer Haselberger has played in the St. Paul-Minneapolis situation:

This story out of Minnesota is particularly confirming for me of my own theory that wherever women had a critical role in the process of investigating child abuse by priests that on balance the abuse either stopped, or was mitigated, or eventually was reported to authorities - where jail time has a very sobering effect on hierarchs and priests.   
In other words, from a meta point-of-view, involvement of women in the process of reviewing priestly abuse of children, children were SAFER in the long run.  Sadly, as the Minnesota case demonstrates, women's involvement does not prevent the abuse from continuing.  We should commend Jennifer Haselberger for her sacrifice for integrity, justice and the safety of children.

To which Helen replies:

It was the principal of the parish school, who wrote a letter of concern to the diocese of Kansas City describing her observations and those of parents about the "inappropriate conduct with children" by Ratigan and his suspicious photography of vulnerable children. It went nowhere and if memory serves, she got no response. 
It was a Mercy nun, who testified at the trial of Msgr. Lynn in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that computer disks and magazines with sexually graphic content addressed to a priest in the parish where she was Director of Religious Education, were accidently found in her mailbox. She informed the archdiocesan vicar for the county in which she resided and also the pastor who told her to stop spreading rumors about the priest.  Eventually she was fired.

On Jennifer Haselberger and her long road to becoming a whistleblower in the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, see Dan Browning at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. As her father Ken Haselberger notes, she's a brilliant, determined woman who worked hard to obtain educational credentials to give valuable service to the Catholic church as a canonist.

And now it's unlikely she will ever work in a Catholic institution again. A fact that should deeply shame those of us who continue to claim the tag Catholic in any way at all . . . . 

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