- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Star Tribune, Oct. 13

Only one step forward in healing the archdiocese

Nothing about the settlement announced Monday in a lawsuit filed against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis can erase the years of pain suffered by victims of child abuse.

Nothing written on paper can undo the crimes committed by clergy members who preyed on those who trusted them as spiritual guides, only to have that trust broken by sexual predators wearing clerical collars.

The courageous victims who have pursued justice in the face of decades of stonewalling by the Roman Catholic Church deserve most of the credit for the child protection plan revealed Monday - not the lawyers or church leaders who forged the agreement. “Awareness is a painful process,” Vicar General Charles Lachowitzer said at a news conference in St. Paul. “We are humiliated.”

Humiliation is what too many victims of clergy abuse have felt - sometimes in silence and alone - for far too long. Like them, we want to believe the settlement signals a new era for the church - not only in Minnesota but in archdioceses across the country. But we remain skeptical.

The problem has been that for years - for decades - church leaders have valued avoiding institutional and individual consequences above safeguarding children. And so far, even in the face of this “humiliation,” consequences are still being avoided.

The suit against the archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona was the first filed under the Minnesota Child Victim’s Act, which allowed older abuse cases to be heard in civil court. Passed by the Legislature in 2013, the law gave victims three years to file suit for sexual abuse that had occurred in the past.

A man identified as John Doe 1 filed the suit that was settled Monday. He claimed he had been abused by former priest Tom Adamson at a St. Paul Park church in the 1970s. Adamson, who had been accused of molesting boys in the Winona diocese, allegedly abused the boy after being transferred to the Twin Cities archdiocese without public notification.

The Minnesota Religious Council (on behalf of Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and United Methodist churches) lobbied against the Child Victim’s Act at the Legislature. And, as recently as last month, lawyers for the archdiocese argued that Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North should dismiss a public-nuisance claim made in the Adamson case.

But Van de North ruled that the claim that the church created a public nuisance by moving known child sex offenders from parish to parish could go forward, allowing the plaintiff’s attorneys access to all of the evidence pertaining to all clergy abuse across the archdiocese. The ruling also forced sworn testimony from top church officials such as Archbishop John Nienstedt, former Archbishop Harry Flynn, and former vicars general Kevin McDonough and Peter Laird.

After losing at the Legislature and in Van de North’s court, the archdiocese likely became more serious about the settlement and the child protection plan announced Monday by Doe’s attorney, Jeff Anderson.

Notably absent from the news conference was Nienstedt, who was on a mission trip in Africa. The archbishop did release a statement saying he was “deeply saddened and profoundly sorry for the pain suffered by victims, survivors and their families.”

Minnesotans, especially Catholics, want to believe that the archdiocese can return to its core mission of compassion, social justice and civic harmony - and that the church will restore its place as one of this state’s most valuable institutions.

The settlement announced Monday provides hope of recovery for the church, but - as this page first argued in July - the archdiocese needs a true reformer to lead it forward. Nienstedt lacks the credibility, both internally and externally, to overcome skepticism that little will change, and his resignation is a necessary next step for an archdiocese in need of healing.


The Free Press of Mankato, Oct. 15

Giffords stays in the public gun debate

Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman shot in 2011 in a public attack that left six others dead, continues to struggle with the aftereffects of a bullet to the brain. Her mobility is limited; she has difficulties speaking.

She had to abandon her career in elective office. She has not abandoned public debate. Hit with a life-changing misfortune, she has used the prominence afforded by her struggle to recover to advance her causes.

Giffords this week launched a nine-state tour promoting tighter gun restrictions in domestic violence cases. Her tour is to take her to Minnesota, where the Legislature - with the support of gun-rights advocate Rep. Tony Cornish of Good Thunder - recently passed a law denying abusers the right to possess guns.

Giffords now is pushing to extend such restrictions to convicted stalkers, and for expanded background checks to prevent abusers from buying firearms at gun shows.

This is hardly Gifford’s first foray into the gun issue. She made a similar tour last year to promote federal legislation to expand background checks.

This time she’s focused on the state level and framing the issue in terms of domestic violence and protecting women. It is a politically astute approach; it’s difficult even for the NRA to advocate guns in the hands of domestic abusers, and state legislatures can’t possibly be as dysfunctional as Congress.

Regardless of how this next foray fares in Minnesota, Giffords’ efforts remind us that some gun ownership restrictions can pass muster for both sides with reasonable compromise. It should not be an “all or nothing” issue.


St. Cloud Times, Oct. 14

SCSU, faculty should share views on transcript policy

Yes, it’s worth a sigh of relief that the U.S. Department of Education recently found no violations of federal law after it investigated allegations that St. Cloud State University administrators had changed some students’ grades.

That probe, begun almost 18 months ago, had centered on whether the university failed to return federal financial aid money it was required to return if the students whose grades were changed became ineligible to keep that financial aid.

Again, it’s a relief to know no laws were broken. However, the report also does not dispute that some transcripts were changed, and in some cases, it was done without instructors’ knowledge.

No matter what, that’s unsettling - not to mention potentially divisive amid long-strained relations between university administration and Faculty Association leaders.

All those factors, along with the closing of the investigation, make it a good time for both sides to share their views on whether changes implemented in response to the probe are making a difference.

Upon news of the probe back in June 2013, university administrators clarified their policy on how grade changes are processed and communicated to faculty.

That came after Minnesota Public Radio reported a review of 237 student transcripts changed between July 2011 and June 2012 found administrators made grade changes and consulted faculty in 69 percent of the cases. In others, it was not clear whether the faculty member was not notified or did not respond.

According to an Oct. 3 Times report, the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General determined that a “large amount” of the transcript alterations were from “a backlog of late-withdraw requests, not no-show students, and that most of the transcript alterations affected students that attended classes for some time and were thus eligible to keep a portion or all of the Title IV aid they received.”

Again, it’s good there were no violations of federal law. Equally important - and looking forward - it’s important for the public to understand what’s changed and that both sides see it as an effective solution.

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