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'Serious shortcomings': Task force critical of archdiocese

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A new report from a task force launched by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis notes "serious shortcomings" in the way the archdiocese handled allegations that priests were sexually abusing minors.

The 56-page report, released Monday, says the archdiocese put too much decision power in the hands of one or two people when it came to dealing with allegations of priests sexually abusing minors.

"Despite Archdiocesan policies and procedures designed to protect against clergy sexual abuse of minors, a flawed organizational structure with little oversight and accountability created opportunities" for abuse, the report says.

The task force also faults the archdiocese for the way it communicated about child abuse both within the organization and with church members and the public.

"Processes and decisions have appeared secretive and sequestered, even if that was not the intent,” the report says.

The archdiocese for months has been reeling from allegations that it mishandled abuse claims.

The report recommends, in part, that the archdiocese:

– Revise its Safe Environment organizational structure.

– Create a better audit system to review whether that Safe Environment program is working.

– Create a more effective record-keeping procedure to ensure that information related to clergy sexual misconduct is compiled, centralized and made accessible to decision makers

Archbishop John Nienstedt has said he would follow recommendations made by the task force, formed last October and created by the Rev. Reginald Whitt, a Dominican priest and law professor at the University of St. Thomas.

Nienstedt in a press release says the report will "guide us in fulfilling our important goals which I have stated before and repeat now: the protection of children, the healing of victims, and the restoration of trust of the faithful and of our clergy who are serving our communities with honor."

Critics blasted the new report as a weak indictment. The organization SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the church's "recklessness and callousness have already been exposed numerous times by law enforcement, news sources, court documents and brave survivors. This report admits – in very 'toned down' terms - what everyone already knows and has known for months or years."

The group also says the archdiocese's "vague acknowledgment that 'people at the top' have made 'mistakes' is old news and deceitful. They have engaged in criminal behavior."

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