Frequently Asked Questions about Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment

Updated August 25, 2014

Q: What is the Church doing to ensure the safety of children, youth and vulnerable adults?

A: The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis has undertaken the following actions:

  • Immediate removal from public ministry of men credibly accused of sexual abuse, pending investigation in cooperation with civil authorities.  A credible claim is any accusation that is “not manifestly false or frivolous.”
  • Permanent removal from public ministry of men found to have sexually abused a minor or vulnerable adult following an investigation and the conclusion of any criminal or canonical proceeding.  This has been our policy and the policy of dioceses around the country for more than 12 years.
  • Public disclosure of names of men who have substantiated claims against them of sexually abusing a minor while they were assigned as priests in our archdiocese. A substantiated claim is one for which sufficient evidence exists to establish reasonable grounds to believe that the alleged abuse occurred. It is neither a conclusion nor a presumption of guilt.
    • Most men with substantiated claims of sexual abuse against them died, left ministry, or were removed from ministry decades ago. Archdiocesan leaders are not aware of any men with substantiated claims of abuse against them who are currently in public ministry in the archdiocese.
  • Intensive internal and external review of policies and procedures related to the protection of children and youth beginning in the fall of 2013.
    Establishment of an independent Task Force comprised of law enforcement, legal experts and community leaders to recommend best practices.

  • Review of archdiocesan files and records by an external firm led by a former top FBI official who is an expert in addressing child abuse prevention, intervention and response.
  • Review of Promotion of Ministerial Standards monitoring program for priests accused of sexual abuse and other misconduct.
  • Coordination with the St. Paul Police Department, and all civil authorities, in continuing to encourage anyone who suspects abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult within Church ministry—or any setting including the home or school—to first contact law enforcement and/or child protection officials.
  • Establishment of comprehensive safe environment awareness education for adults.
    • Since 2005: more than 76,000 members of the clergy, candidates for ordination, parish employees, teachers, parish and school volunteers and others in service in the local Church have undergone VIRTUS safe environment training (as of August 2014).
  • Enforcement of a criminal background check policy.
    • Beginning in 1993, archdiocesan policy required background checks on clergy and archdiocesan, parish, and Catholic school employees.
    • Since 2002, when we began using our current background check vendor, nearly 120,000 background checks have been run on clergy, employees and volunteers in parishes, schools, and other service in the local Church (as of August 2014).
  • Establishment of a Code of Conduct
    • Since 2007, members of the clergy, candidates for ordination, parish employees, teachers, parish and school volunteers and others in service in the local Church have been required to adhere to a Code of Conduct.
  • Implementation of age-appropriate personal safety education for children and youth
    • Since 2006, more than 100,000 children in Catholic schools and faith formation programs have participated in age-appropriate personal safety lessons.

Q: What is the Essential 3?

A: All clergy and parish, school and diocesan employees, as well as all volunteers who have either regular or unsupervised interaction with minors or vulnerable adults, must complete the Essential 3 requirements. The Essential 3 are: participation in safe environment training; undergoing a background check; and acknowledging and adhering to a Code of Conduct.

Q: What about for parish or Catholic school employees or volunteers who are under age 18?

A: There are special Essential 3 requirements for minor employees, as well as for minor volunteers who interact with children, other youth or vulnerable adults.

Q: How can I found out more about what personal safety lessons my child will be taught at her Catholic school or parish faith formation program?

A: You can find general information about personal safety lessons for children and youth here on SafeCatholicSPM.org. Please talk with a leader in your child’s school or faith formation office for more specific information about the program being offered at your child’s site.

Q: What is the Charter and why does it exist?

A:  The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is a comprehensive set of procedures established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2002 for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The Charter also includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse.

Q: What does the Charter require of bishops?

A: Specific procedures bishops in the United States are required to follow are outlined in the Essential Norms. The Essential Norms can be found on the USCCB Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection website.

Q: Has the archdiocese apologized to victim/survivors and their families and friends?

A: Archbishop John Nienstedt has apologized on his own behalf and on behalf of the archdiocese to all those who have been victimized by anyone in ministry of the Church. The Church cannot apologize enough to those harmed by this violation of a sacred trust.

Q: What does the archdiocese do to help victim/survivors and their family and friends in healing?

A: The archdiocese provides outreach through services that address victim/survivors’ emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being, such as counseling and spiritual direction. Victim/survivors are invited to meet with the Archbishop if and when they wish to do so as part of their healing process. The Archbishop is committed to meeting with victim/survivors of sexual abuse in order to hear about their experiences and concerns, and to provide solidarity and support.

Q: What was the outcome of the Task Force’s work?

A: The Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force (Task Force) submitted its Report and Recommendations to Protect Children from Clergy Sexual Abuse to the archdiocese in April 2014 The Task Force recommendations include specific actions to be taken that require norms, structures, and procedures to be developed for their implementation. The Vicar for Ministerial Standards, Fr. Reginald Whitt, O.P., is overseeing the implementation of the recommendations, which Archbishop John Nienstedt pledged to implement.

Q: When will the Task Force recommendations be implemented?

A: Implementation of the recommendations is underway now. The archdiocese will provide periodic updates on the status of implementation. A key step forward is the naming of Judge Timothy J. O’Malley as the Director of the new Office of Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards in August 2014.

Q: What is the threshold for removing a priest from public ministry?

A:  If the archdiocese receives a credible claim of sexual abuse of a minor, a priest will be removed from active ministry. These restrictions stay in place until an investigation determines whether or not the claim is substantiated.  If a claim is determined to be substantiated, he will remain restricted until any criminal or canonical proceedings are concluded.

Q: Can priests with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor against them ever be put back into public ministry?

A:  No priest who has sexually abused a minor can ever return to public ministry. The determination by the review board that the claim is substantiated is a very serious matter. Ultimately though, a final determination is made through a criminal or canonical process. If not enough evidence is presented to substantiate an accusation of sexual abuse, the priest may return to ministry with proper disclosure and restrictions, if necessary. Priests permanently removed from public ministry may not celebrate the sacraments publicly and may not present themselves as priests in any way.

Q: Will the archdiocese disclose more names of clergy with a substantiated claim of sexual abuse against them?

A: The archdiocese is committed to prudent and ongoing disclosure. If a credible claim is determined to be substantiated, whether from the review of clergy files by outside experts or otherwise, we will add the name of the clergy member to the disclosure section of our website. We will also share this substantiated claim information with the public by notifying parishes where the man was previously assigned, posting statements on our website and releasing information to the media.

Q: Why not make all accusations against clergy public?

A: Some claims against clergy have not been established as credible. It would be wrong to publicize these men’s names when there is insufficient evidence to establish reasonable grounds to believe that the alleged abuse occurred.

Q: How much has the archdiocese paid to victim/survivors to settle civil claims related to clergy sexual abuse of minors? How have those settlements been funded?

A: As of the end of the 2013 fiscal year (June 30, 2013), the accrued expenses for counseling and other support services, as well as settlement of claims of sexual abuse by clergy when the victim was a minor, totaled $6,200,066 during the past 10 years. Of that total, $2,332,859 was for victim settlements, $1,777,679 went to victim/survivor support, $566,318 went to legal services, and $1,523,210 went to priest living expenses, to support men no longer in ministry who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.

Q: Are the men on the disclosure list being supported financially or in other ways by the archdiocese?  Where does this money come from?

A: All men who served as priests are legally entitled to receive priest pension benefits that have accrued. Financial support varies depending on the individual circumstance. The archdiocese has an obligation in Church law to ensure that no man ordained a priest is left destitute. Two of the men are receiving a salary and housing allowance paid from the archdiocesan Chancery Corporation operating budget. All of the men who have not been laicized are receiving their priest pension and retirement healthcare. Pension and retirement health care payments are paid from the priest pension trust and medical benefit trust.

Q: What is your estimate of funds needed to address pending and future claims against the Archdiocese?

A: The Chancery Corporation has an accrued litigation reserve of $5,300,000 for FY 2013. For known claims there is no practical means to determine the likelihood of outcome. Under accounting standards, when no amount within a particular reserve range is a better estimate of a particular outcome than any other amount, we are required to use the minimum amount of the range for our accrual. We have not accrued any amount for unknown claims as these cannot be reasonably determined due to the unprecedented third “open window” for civil sexual abuse claims in Minnesota which opened for a three year time frame beginning May 2013. We are not able to look to dioceses in other states for guidance because no other state has had as many “open windows” during which the civil statute of limitations has been lifted.

These accruals are management’s estimates and not intended to be indicative of the actual legal outcomes of the individual cases. Losses from unknown claims could be substantial. We will tender the defense of these claims to our insurers whenever possible, however claims can go back to a time period in which insurance may not have been available or coverage limits were minimal.

Q: What is the source of funds for payments for legal settlements and other costs related to clergy sexual abuse?

A: The source is insurance coverage, investment income, and unrestricted donations to the archdiocesan Chancery Corporation. Beginning in 2014, donations to the Catholic Services Appeal (CSA) go directly to the newly created, tax-exempt Catholic Services Appeal Foundation to fund vital Church ministries throughout our community, including Latino Ministry, prison chaplaincy, Catholic school tuition assistance for families with financial need and other important work. The Catholic Services Appeal Foundation is managed by an independent board.