The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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November 11, 2013

St. Paul archdiocese to name abusive priests

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis this month will release the names of some priests who have sexually abused children — a disclosure necessary to correct "serious mistakes" made in the handling of such cases, the archbishop said Monday in an open letter.

The release of names will be limited to those priests who live in the archdiocese and who have what church officials have deemed to be substantiated claims of abuse against them, Archbishop John Nienstedt said in the letter.

During November "and upon receipt of permission of the relevant court," Nienstedt said he would disclose the names, locations and status of these men. He said all of them have been removed from ministry.

It wasn't clear if the list would include accused priests whose names have already been made public.

Nienstedt and other church leaders have long argued against disclosing the names of priests accused of abuse, saying innocent priests could be falsely accused.

The about-face comes amid a Minnesota Public Radio News report about another priest accused of misconduct. The archdiocese says Clarence Vavra admitted he engaged in sexual contact with young boys decades ago. MPR reported the 74-year-old he was transferred 17 times over 38 years and currently lives in New Prague.

"Serious mistakes have been made in the archdiocese's handling of abuse cases," Nienstedt wrote in his letter on the archdiocese website. "Offering expressions of regret and sorrow seems so inadequate in the context of the crimes of the offenders and our failures to deal with them properly.

"And yet, I must say how sorry I am. My heart is heavy for the victims of this repugnant abuse," he wrote.

It wasn't clear what impact Nienstedt's disclosure would have. There are no ongoing criminal cases against any active priests in the archdiocese, but there has been a flurry of lawsuits in recent months after Minnesota lawmakers loosened the statute of limitations for filing civil claims in child sex abuse cases.

Nienstedt, who has been under fire over allegations that he and other leading church officials mishandled cases of sexual misconduct by priests, said he plans to reveal the priests' names to show he's committed to transparency and to the safety of minors. He said his ability to release all names depends upon a review of priest files that he ordered in October. The firm hired to conduct the review will be announced next week.

He also said the names would be released upon a court's permission. He did not elaborate.

"This is misleading as no court order is needed to release these names. Do it today. Why the delay?" Mike Finnegan, an attorney for victims of sexual abuse by clergy, said in a statement.

Finnegan and other attorneys for abuse victims have repeatedly asked the church to release a list of 33 priests whom the archdiocese deemed to have been credibly accused — including some who are deceased.

"For decades this Archdiocese has displayed a pattern and practice of protecting the sexual offender instead of putting the safety of the community and children first," Finnegan said.

At least three dozen dioceses, including Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Chicago, have released names of priests accused of abuse, according to BishopAccountability.org.

In his letter, Nienstedt also acknowledged serious mistakes in the way the archdiocese dealt with Vavra, who was ordained in 1965 and removed from ministry in 2003.

Vavra self-reported in 1995 that he had sexual contact with several young boys and teenage boys while working on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1975.

Nienstedt wrote Vavra's status was reevaluated after 2002, when bishops created a charter to protect youth. Under today's standards, Vavra would have been permanently removed when he admitted his crimes and authorities would have been notified, the archbishop said.

"In the spirit of offering him a path to healing and redemption, too much trust was placed in the hope of remedying Vavra's egregious behaviors," he said.

There was no answer at a phone number associated with Vavra's home in New Prague, and an email seeking comment was not returned Monday to The Associated Press.

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Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/amyforliti

 

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