Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Minnesota Again: Twin Cities Priest Calls on Archbishop Nienstedt to Resign, Questions Decision to Place Rev. Whitt at Head of Commission to Deal with Abuse

Yesterday, I noted that University of St. Thomas canonist Rev. Reginald Whitt is now vicar for ministerial standards in the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, and will oversee issues relating to clergy misconduct. I cited commentary by Michael Skiendzielewski who indicates that Rev. Whitt has maintained the following:

Canon law is very eloquent on what a bishop is supposed to do, but there is no list of Thou Shalt Nots. These (sex abusers) are criminals, but they are our criminals and we can't lose them. Indeed, the bishops have a duty to try to save them.

In light of the preceding discussion, it's interesting to note Baird Helgeson's report in today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which also mentions Rev. Whitt. Helgeson's report focuses on the appeal of a Catholic priest in the Twin Cities, Rev. John Deziel, to Archbishop Nienstedt to resign after it has been made public that Nienstedt has ignored warnings of sexual misconduct by priests posing a threat to minors. 

Helgeson writes: 

Deziel is also questioning Nienstedt’s decision to select the Rev. Reginald Whitt to lead a commission to review the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations. Whitt lives in a priest residence at St. Thomas with a small group of clergy that includes the Rev. Michael Keating, a Catholic studies professor on leave from the university after new allegations that he sexually abused a 13-year-old girl in the late 1990s.

I mentioned Rev. Keating in a previous posting. As that posting notes, Keating recently went on leave at the University of St. Thomas after a young woman filed suit against him, alleging that he abused her when she was a minor. She and her family have recently released emails that Keating sent to her when she was 14 and 15 years old, in which he avows his love for her and speaks of her seductiveness. The young woman indicates that she reported Keating's abuse of her (which included inappropriate touching at her family's house, she maintains, while Keating read The Chronicles of Narnia to her!). She reported the abuse to the archdiocese under the archdiocese's previous archbishop, Harry Flynn, and  no action was ever taken.

Flynn has been sitting on the board of trustees of the University of St. Thomas--where both Keating and Whitt are on the faculty!!--and has just resigned from the board.

A mess? Yes. A double mess? Undoubtedly. Everywhere you turn in this story, you seem to end up encountering the same faces. The leg bone connects to the knee bone connects to the archbishop connects to the person the archbishop places over the committee to address the abuse connects to the priest accused of abuse.

How is it possible to untangle this Gordian knot of connections that are the very source of the problem, when one simply amplifies the connections by appointing an in-house overseer and problem-solver who is intimately connected to the very folks he is supposedly overseeing and whose problems he's addressing? Anyone with good sense knows that Nienstedt's appointment of Whitt is the opposite of a solution to the problems we now know the archdiocese has in the area of tracking and addressing child abuse by its priests.

Rev. Deziel is absolutely correct to question Nienstedt's decision to place Rev. Reginald Whitt at the head of the commission to solve the problems with which the archdiocese is now coping as one case of abuse after another becomes public knowledge, and as it becomes public knowledge that the archdiocese has known of and failed to act about priests posing a threat to minors. Whitt lives in a priest residence at St. Thomas with a small group of clergy that includes the Rev. Michael Keating.

That really says it all, doesn't it?

The graphic: a detail from Rogier van der Weyden's "Descent from the Cross" (1435), from the Facebook page of Museum and Art Gallery Exhibitions and Events.

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