Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Minnesota Again: As Archbishop Nienstedt Targeted the Gays, Priest Possessing Child Pornography Was Permitted to Continue in Ministry

Yesterday, I mentioned in passing the story now breaking in the Catholic archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, where officials of the archdiocese have known from 2004 that a parish priest under their authority, Rev. Jonathan Shelley, has pornographic images of boys on his computer, but kept him in his position as a parish priest. For Minnesota Public Radio, Madeleine Baran published a run-down of the story yesterday. The details are absolutely damning. 

They show archdiocesan officials debating for years the definition and details of child pornography, while they were in possession of evidence that Father Shelley had contravened laws making the possession of child pornography a criminal act, and while they had the obligation to report him to the authorities for possessing child pornography. And all this after the American bishops had made a solemn oath to the Catholic people of the U.S. that they would clean up the child abuse situation in the Catholic church and would stop exposing Catholic children to danger . . . . 

As Jerry Slevin points out in two hard-hitting postings at his Christian Catholicism blog (here and here), credit for blowing the whistle in this case goes to a courageous woman, Jennifer Haselberger, a canon lawyer who was formerly archdiocesan Chancellor for Canonical Matters, but who has been vilified by the officials of the archdiocese after she alerted the police and the media to the Shelley story, and who has now resigned her position. Jerry writes,

The female Chancellor bravely quit in protest. She is holding her ground against her bishop, an arch anti-gay marriage activist. She is proving, single handedly, what a difference a woman makes, in a world of childless celibates, when it comes to protecting children, among other things. 
She is also likely giving many in the Catholic hierarchy in the USA and the Vatican some real nightmares, since she likely knows even more "secrets". This bold woman is not clamming up like Philly’s Cardinal Rigali’s Secretary, Msgr. Lynn, did. 
Pope Francis should appoint her immediately to the Council of Cardinals, instead of only the “usual suspects”. He would then at least get the full truth. She probably already even owns a red dress, but may need to buy some cufflinks.

At his Progressive Catholic Voice site, Michael Bayly has published a media release that Haselberger provided to the press recently. In it, she summarizes the actions she took after she became aware of Father Shelley's possession of child pornography, and she sought to encourage Archbishop John Nienstedt to deal with the situation--and to place the well-being of children first and foremost in his decision-making about the case. Haselberger writes,

I asked then [i.e., when she resigned her position in April 2013, because her sense of personal integrity and religious belief no longer allowed her to continue in it], as I ask now, that Archbishop Nienstedt take his responsibilities towards the protection of the young and the vulnerable seriously. I asked that he permit a comprehensive, external review of the files of all clergy of the Archdiocese, and that following this review he remove from ministry and make public the list of clergy who have been determined to have engaged in acts of sexual misconduct, as well as those whom could reasonably be assumed to pose a threat to children and young people. Until this occurs, I do not believe that it can be said that the Archdiocese is honoring its promise to protect.

And what was occupying Archbishop Nienstedt's attention in the time frame in which he became aware of a parish priest's possession of child pornography, if not the safety and well-being of children? As Michael Bayly points out in a clear and powerful statement at his Wild Reed blog this past Sunday, Nienstedt has been transfixed by the threat he imagines same-sex marriage poses to family values, and was pouring the time, energy, and money of the archdiocese into a political campaign to inscribe anti-gay prejudice in the state constitution, while he knew of Father Shelley's possession of child pornography and kept him in ministry. Michael also notes that at the very same time, the archdiocese knew of yet another priest's, Father Curtis Wehmeyer's, abuse of minors and possession of child pornography. Nienstedt kept Wehmeyer in ministry, too, while he worked feverishly to convince Catholics in Minnesota that the gays are the big threat that Catholics seeking to protect and defend their families should fear. 

There's something very sick about these stories, isn't there? The obsessive (and entirely diversionary) focus on gay people as the threat to family, while those making loud claims about that bogus threat are themselves exposing children to danger as they debating what constitutes child pornography while they keep in place a pastor known to possess such pornography . . . . What's sick in these stories is the inversion of moral standards displayed by the very pastoral leaders who proclaim that they and they alone uphold the highest standards of morality for the rest of us who are Catholic. What's sick is the way these pastoral leaders turn moral standards upside down while claiming that they are the unique, God-ordained arbiters of the morality of every one else.

As Jerry Slevin writes (see the second of his links above), perhaps it's time for Pope Francis to stop kissing a few babies and step up and start protecting millions of children in a transparent way. And while he's at it, I for one wouldn't mind his insisting that bishops like Nienstedt step the anti-gay hysteria way down and start dealing with the mess in their own houses--which, to my way of thinking, demands far more attention as a serious moral challenge than the appeal of a targeted minority to enjoy the same human rights everyone else in the world enjoys.

The graphic: a photograph of the video attacking marriage equality that was sent at Archbishop Nienstedt's request to every Catholic household in Minnesota in 2010, from Minnesota NPR. 

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