We’ve come a long way on clergy abuse

We’ve come a long way on clergy abuse

By KEVIN CONNEELY  Star Tribune  Sunday, June 30, 2019

COUNTERPOINT: Jennifer Haselberg remains a critic, but much has changed since she left.

Jennifer Haselberger, the former chancellor for canonical affairs in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, recently wrote a commentary for the Washington Post in which she took a hard approach to “eradicating” clergy abuse in the Catholic Church. (The Star Tribune reprinted her article under the headline “The church can stop abuse; it just won’t” on June 14.)

Ms. Haselberger served our archdiocese in her chancellor role for six years. She describes what must for her have been an untenable position in 2013, so she made the courageous choice to resign as a self-described whistle-blower. Many Catholics I know could not appreciate her bravery at the time.

With the benefit of hindsight, few would dispute that she played an important but contentious role in shining a light into a dark corner. For that cleansing light, we cannot blame the person holding the flashlight. But her commentary’s either-or approach and negative view of the church’s prospects deserve a response in light of what has happened in the six years since she left her post.

Her working premise is that “the U.S. Church accepts the sexual abuse of minors as a cost of doing business the American way.” She compares the Catholic Church to a business organization that will always prioritize one thing (evangelization) over another (stopping child abuse by clergy).

Kevin Conneely, an attorney, is a member of Annunciation Parish in Minneapolis.

I have a more positive view of the church’s efforts and its prospects, but let me briefly address some of the steps Haselberger describes as necessary. She proposes that to stop abuse the church has to “get out of youth ministry.” Readers are left to guess which forms of “youth ministry” simply have to go — or for how long. Citing the five decades of no Catholic education in communist Slovenia, she leaves readers to wonder if her broad “youth ministry” prohibition includes the closing of all Catholic schools here, too. It would seem that any opportunity for abusers (and by this term she implies clergy) to interact with Catholic children, whether for education or faith formation or even holding or attending youth conferences, must come to a full stop. OK, then what?

She also criticizes those Catholic Church leaders who are resisting what she calls a “seemingly common-sense” legislative effort. Most recently, California legislators proposed to invade the sacramental seal of confession by making priests mandatory reporters of “suspected child abuse” confessed by other clerics or church-affiliated employees. Both Catholic leaders and laity should strongly oppose this intrusion into the healing Sacrament of


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