#813 – Dick Bernard: The Archbishop [possibly] takes a fall.

Related: my Oct 20 2013 post, here.
For up to date information from the same basic source I’ll see about this situation, check the headlines here.
I am writing this intentionally before reading anything other than yesterdays 2:40 p.m. Minneapolis Star Tribune headline “[St. Paul-Minneapolis] Archbishop Nienstedt denies inappropriately touching boy in ’09”. This was later followed by an e-mail “headline” from a friend at 6:48 p.m. “All I can say about this is ‘WOW’. If the allegation is true, it explains a lot about Nienstedt’s demeanor. Even Jeff Anderson [litigator who has done well in representing victims of clergy abuse], has the good sense to not ‘pile on’ and let this ball of string unravel. How can [Nienstedt] not resign after this??”
Having said this, and freely admitting that I have had zero affection for this Archbishop since he came here about seven years ago – we knew what we were getting from his very public job performance in his previous Diocese – I urge restraint in rushing to judgement.
Personally, I thought since the beginning that this Archishop was a very bad ‘fit’ for this Diocese. He came in with a very aggressive and public agenda that played out in a potentially very negative way in the last election (only Minnesota’s voters thwarted his wishes to amend the constitution of the state.)
But my impulses to cheer publicly for his problems are muted. I’d rather he be gone but if he goes under this circumstance, a possible victim of a witch hunt, some misinterpreted touch, I will not be pleased.
We don’t need witch hunts. (And as noted above, I know nothing more than what is in the first paragraph.)
My concern here is born out of long experience representing public school teachers in this state (1972-2000). Some clients were “guilty as sin”. But some turned out to be not guilty of anything, other than an opportunistic complaint made about them by a student. And there were all shades in between. (There were few actual cases; they were very rare given the immense number of human interactions possible in public education, but once revealed they, like today’s likely front page headline, dominated the news, and sullied everyone around them, including the accused, whether ultimately guilty or not.)
The same is true when Priests and Ministers are accused: there are few, there is a rush to judgement, the reputation of their peers is also sullied.
Teaching, like ministry, is a very public activity with lots of human contact – a necessary part of the job – and when the Laws were passed codifying unacceptable behaviors, it was more than Priests and Ministers who were caught in the net. There were people from whom I, on occasion, received the first call including the first call from a jail somewhere.
It was never pretty, and even those accused who may have been guilty of something, were given at least due process protection, then quietly gone.
But at this moment I mostly think of the ones who I represented who were innocent, and were guilty only because of mal-intent of an accuser(s), or of a rush to judgement interpretation of someone.
That was never pretty, either, and false accusations destroyed some people I represented who I knew only in context of their particular cases.
They had been set up….
When you’re accused of a sexual offense in this society, there seems to be no “innocent until proven guilty”. You are presumed to be guilty.
And that’s what I worry about here: tried, convicted, sentenced…by accusation.
Next Wednesday, Christmas Day, I’m usher at the Mass where Abp. Nienstedt was supposed to be the celebrant.
Frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to his appearance.
Doubtless, now, he won’t be there on Christmas Day, but I won’t celebrate his absence either.
There will be a great plenty of rushing to judgement in the next hours and days, that is for certain. A couple of hours from this writing I’ll be meeting with a good friend for a customary Christmas breakfast, and doubtless she and I will talk a lot about this case: we share background in representing those accused, and we share the history of some of the cases I once had to deal with.
Doubtless there will be restaurant table talk at tables around our own about the same topic.
The allegation will be the hot topic of discussion today.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Comments? Have at it.

2 replies
  1. Leila Whitinger
    Leila Whitinger says:

    I agree with everything you just said, of course. Nobody wants to see people get away with inappropriate and harmful behaviors towards vulnerable children. It is wrong to sweep such behavior under the rug and let the perpetrators continue their abuse.
    Having said that, I have been in the same situation with wrongly accused individuals. Nothing can adequately discribe the agony they experience when facing this kind of thing. Nothing. It goes beyond damage to their reputation and it quickly becomes an attack for which they have no means of protection. The investigations may take months, during which time the accused person is forbidden to talk about it or even kept informed of progress. In school settings, they may even be on paid leave during this time. Even when they are finally found to be innocent, the damage is done.
    Because I have seen this happen far more often to innocent people, I cannot jump to the conclusion that a person is automatically guilty until proven innocent.

  2. Vicci
    Vicci says:

    Christianity is the only religion that practices the concept of “sin.”
    The other major religions of the world have more positive processes to repair mistakes. Therefore,the reciprocity will be hard on the Archbishop and the church.


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