Names of Abusive Priests to be Released by End of Month

Updated: 11/12/2013 7:33 AM By: Steve Tellier

In this Oct. 21, 2010 file photo, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt talks about the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis at his office in St. Paul, Minn.
In this Oct. 21, 2010 file photo, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt talks about the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis at his office in St. Paul, Minn.
Photo: Photo: AP/Craig Lassig, File

It's a significant development involving the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis after a chain of alarming allegations. Following mounting pressure, the archdiocese will release the names of priests accused of sexually abusing children.

Archbishop John Nienstedt announced the decision on Monday in an open letter. One expert told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS it signals the archdiocese may be turning a corner on this issue.

For some, that would be a welcome change.

"It has been swept under for way too long, and mistakes have been made," said Shelley Olson, a parishioner in Minneapolis.

For weeks, it's been allegations, revelations, and condemnations.

"I've talked with a lot of friends of mine that are Catholic, and they say, 'When are they going to get their act together?'" said Lea Nowak, another parishioner in Minneapolis.

Many Catholics hope Monday was the day that happened.

It began with that statement from Archbishop Nienstedt, promising to release a list of, "the names, locations and status of priests who are currently living in the archdiocese, and who we know have substantiated claims against them of committing sexual abuse against minors."

"Only with the understanding and sharing of this information will we begin to heal and rebuild our relationship of trust," Nienstedt wrote.

"It is months overdue," said Dr. Charles Reid, a professor at the University of St. Thomas and an expert on the Catholic church.

Reid described his reaction as "guarded optimism," calling the list a welcome first step that could still turn into a misstep.

"We may be missing some crucial details. We need to know whether people pose ongoing risks of violation," Reid said. "They're aiming for transparency. I hope that's their goal. Will they achieve it? That's a larger question."

Parishioners we spoke with said the archdiocese must fully confront -- and present -- its past before it can focus on the future.

"We can look at this as a mistake that was made. Things weren't handled maybe as well as they could have been, and you can go forward saying, 'This will never happen again,'" Nowak said.

The archdiocese plans to release that list by the end of November.

Reid said the scandal will likely continue to develop in two ways: with more revelations coming from the church, and with multiple lawsuits moving forward in the courtroom. In other cities, like Boston and Los Angeles, those cases have eventually turned into massive payouts to victims.    

Also on Monday, yet another disturbing case of abuse surfaced. Rev. Clarence Vavra admitted to having sexual contact with several young boys at a South Dakota Indian reservation in the 1970's. He was moved from church to church throughout his career, but wasn't removed from the ministry until 2003. The archdiocese said it made "serious errors" by trying to treat him instead of reporting him to the police.

Vavra declined to comment when reached by phone on Monday.

Attorney Mike Finnegan, who has been helping sex abuse victims take legal action, called on the archdiocese to release the names of accused priests immediately, saying each passing day poses a criminal risk.

Open Letter from Archbishop John Nienstedt by KSTPTV