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Archdiocese, county attorney reach settlement in child sex abuse case

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Civil charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will be stayed under a settlement agreement, which requires the church to implement new policies that protect children.

The settlement, filed in court Friday morning, was reached between the archdiocese and the Ramsey County Attorney's Office, which brought criminal and civil charges against the church in June related to a sex abuse case. (Read the full agreement here.)

At a press conference Friday morning, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi called the settlement "groundbreaking," saying it "ensures systemic change, and creates a framework of accountability" that increases oversight and transparency of the archdiocese.

It means a "cultural shift" in how the church will protect children and respond to sex abuse allegations going forward, Choi said.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, in a statement, said the church has been working toward one goal since he came on: "to make sure children are safe in our churches, schools and communities."

"Let me assure you, much of what is in the new document are things we are already doing, while others are practices and procedures that are already working in some dioceses around the country," the letter says. "We are agreeing to implement the plan under a set deadline and to be held accountable for that commitment."

The settlement still has to be approved by bankruptcy court.

Parts of the settlement

The agreement, some of which Choi details in a news release, includes a number of changes to who gets notified when a priest is suspected of sexually abusing a child, as well as who gets a say in the follow-up.

Broadly, Choi said, it decentralizes the decision-making – instead of one or two church leaders deciding the next steps, all suspected cases will have to go before numerous people, including the Ministerial Review Board. The board, according to an archdiocese announcement earlier this year, must be made up mostly of people who aren't members of the archdiocese.

The criminal case against the archdiocese is separate from the civil settlement, and is ongoing, Choi said, though also noted it is moving toward a resolution.

Choi also said the agreement reached was more detailed and wide-reaching than any ruling could have been if the civil case had been resolved in the courts.

"Whether it was by conviction or a verdict on the civil case, if we were to have prevailed, what the judge could have ordered as it relates to what the statute allows, or what criminal procedure allows, could never have been what is in this agreement."

Hebda said a number of boards and high-ranking members of the archdiocese "agreed that this [settlement agreement] is the right thing to do to provide safe environments."

The archdiocese will be subject to two independent audits over the next three years, which the Ramsey County Attorney's Office will see the results of to make sure the archdiocese is following through on its promises agreed in the settlement, Choi said.

If the attorney's office feels the archdiocese isn't complying, it can put the church on notice – and if things continue to not be fixed, the case will go back back to the court system

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