5 priests suspected in ’02 were left off archdiocese’s list

(Star Tribune) Five priests named in a 2002 archdiocesan internal memo about parishes with “some connection to a history of clergy sexual abuse” were not on the list published earlier this month by Archbishop John Nienstedt.

One of the men in the 2002 memo but excluded from Nienstedt’s list is former cleric Harry Walsh, a native of Ireland who has left the priesthood and now teaches sex education for Wright County.

Nienstedt said Thursday evening in a statement that the list he issued Dec. 5 “was not intended to be complete or final.” He didn’t explain why Walsh’s name was not on the list or been added since its initial release. Nienstedt said reviews of three other priests have not yet been done. A review of the fifth priest, who is still active in ministry at an east metro church, concluded there was “no credible or substantiated claim of sexual abuse of a minor.”

The August 2002 memo names 17 men as “priests with known abuse histories.” Two of those 17 are missing from Nienstedt’s list: the late Revs. Ambrose Filbin and Harold Whittet.

Three other priests, including Walsh, were grouped under a heading in the 2002 memo that described them as “priests with disputed claims, marginal behavior or undue attention.”

The 2002 memo from the Rev. Kevin McDonough, a former vicar general, to then-Archbishop Harry Flynn proposed a communications campaign to notify parish leaders of abuse histories at their churches. McDonough described it as “lancing the boil.”

“We have a significant number of parishes that were served at one time or another … by priests with a history of sexual abuse of minors,” the memo said.

The campaign might spur unknown victims to report abuse and help “break the unhealthy secrets that often remain in such parishes,” the memo said.

“On one or more occasions this summer, our failure to do so in specific instances has been viewed as part of a ‘coverup.’ Of course, that failure was not a coverup, but rather lack of time and resources to follow up,” the memo said.

A “further motivator” for the proposed campaign was to head off journalists who were trying to uncover the archdiocese’s list of known offenders, the memo said. “Even if we do not pre-emptively release all of that information ourselves (“publish the list”), we are going to have to deal with its disclosure sooner or later,” the vicar general wrote.

Nienstedt released the list earlier this month under mounting public pressure after more recent allegations of clergy sex abuse came to light this fall. The list was compiled in 2004 as part of a national reform effort by the Catholic Church in the United States and was to include all priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse up to that point. Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North has given the archdiocese until Jan. 6 to name any priests added to the list since then. [More]

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