Because everybody in the Catholic news world has been focused on that amazing synod in Rome, this week’s settlement of an abuse case in the Twin Cities has largely sailed under the radar. It shouldn’t have.
Negotiated between premier abuse victim lawyer Jeff Anderson and officials of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the settlement establishes 17 child protection protocols that ought to be adopted throughout the United States, if not the world. Most important is Protocol 17, which reads as follows:
When the Archdiocese receives a report of child sexual abuse and makes a mandated report to law enforcement pursuant to Minnesota statutes, the Archdiocese shall not conduct an internal investigation and will not interfere in any way with law enforcement until law enforcement concludes its investigation, closes its file without an investigation, or authorizes the Archdiocese to proceed with its investigation.
Time and again, when dioceses have failed to handle an abuse case properly in recent years, it’s been because their internal investigation failed to result in law enforcement being informed when a possible abuser was brought to their attention.
It’s easy enough to understand why. As moral authorities, religious leaders can easily be ruined by a charge of immorality; their boss has a legitimate interest in protecting them from false accusations. It has thus not been easy for even enlightened bishops to give up the control that conducting a preliminary investigation gives them. But it’s necessary.
The Twin Cities settlement would never have come about had it not been for the scandal swirling around the archdiocese and Archbishop John Nienstedt in particular. Tellingly, Nienstedt was not on hand for Monday’s announcement. A statement issued under his name described the settlement as “a historic moment.” It is.