Settlement in Minnesota: Lawyer says agreement 'a new day, new way' in church response to abuse

With a historic courtroom in downtown St. Paul as the backdrop, attorney Jeff Anderson and officials from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Oct. 13 announced a settlement of one of the first cases filed under the Minnesota Child Victims Act. They also released a history-making agreement to work together to protect children and help clergy sexual abuse victims/survivors heal.

"This is about truth, and this is about a new day; this is about a new way, this is about a safe way," said Anderson, who has represented plaintiffs in dozens of lawsuits filed against the archdiocese during the past three decades. "It's not just about pledges and promises. It is an action plan ... words don't protect kids. Actions do."

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During the news conference, a long line of survivors came forward to shake hands with Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens and Father Charles Lachowitzer, vicar general for the archdiocese.

Anderson and Bishop Cozzens expressed their thanks to survivors who made the historic agreement possible. Anderson said, "I am grateful to each of these survivors and their families and supporters that sit among us and work among us every day. This is not a day of reckoning as much as hope, as promise, as action."

"I hope this is a fresh start," said Al Michaud, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse that occurred when he was a child. "We need a safe place to come forward, we need a path toward healing, we need a supportive place to come forward and tell our story."

Michaud is not Doe 1, the plaintiff in the case that was settled. However, he said the settlement is a sign of progress and a reason for hope.

"No longer will we be beaten down by the church, because it's no longer our enemy but our ally," he said.

Doe 1 says he was abused in the 1970s when he was a minor by a former priest of the Diocese of Winona, Thomas Adamson, who had assignments in the archdiocese.

"Today is an unprecedented day, a day I never thought in my wildest dreams I would see," said survivor Jim Keenan. "For those of you who still need a voice, this is your way to come forward."

"We arrived at this place of cooperation thanks to the perseverance of survivors and their loved ones," Bishop Cozzens said. "We are thankful for their courage in making sure that this issue is addressed openly and thoroughly and with compassion.

"I am sorry." Bishop Cozzens continued. "This never should have happened."

Bishop Cozzens noted that the day's events would not have been possible without leadership from Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, who was unable to attend because of a previously planned visit to the archdiocese's sister diocese in Kenya. A morning court meeting in the Doe 1 case precipitated the afternoon news conference.

In a statement, Archbishop Nienstedt praised those "who worked so diligently to bring about this agreement," which "embodies a strengthened spirit of collaboration in addressing the issues related to clerical sexual abuse."

"I am deeply saddened and profoundly sorry for the pain suffered by victims, survivors and their families," he said. "Today we take a significant step closer to achieving the goals we set nearly a year ago to protect children, to help survivors heal, and to restore trust with our clergy and faithful."

As part of a global settlement agreement, the archdiocese committed to abiding by a set of 17 child protection protocols that were developed and approved by both archdiocesan leadership and Jeff Anderson and Associates.

"The archdiocese will ensure that all archdiocesan policy from this point forward provides for at least as much protection as the protocols outline," said Tim O'Malley, director of ministerial standards and safe environment for the archdiocese. O'Malley is a former state administrative law judge and previously served as superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, or BCA. "These protocols will help us move forward to better days for all children, clergy and those we serve."

The archdiocese's appointment of O'Malley as director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment, and the naming of Michael Campion, a fellow former BCA head, were among the actions that Anderson cited as a path to the new way forward.

Archdiocesan leaders emphasized that cooperation with law enforcement continues.

"We are sharing with police to protect children," said O'Malley, who in addition to his background leading the Minnesota bureau, also served as an FBI agent during his long career in law enforcement. "I believe we have struck the right balance of protecting children and ensuring fairness."

As part of the Doe 1 settlement was an agreement on a mechanism to disclose additional names of men with substantiated claims of committing clergy sexual abuse. Work on this disclosure is under way, with cooperation in its development between staff at Jeff Anderson and Associates and the archdiocese. The new disclosure names, as well as assignment histories and current status information, will be released within the next two weeks.

"This is an historic day," Father Lachowitzer said. "Together, we are committed to doing the right thing for victims/survivors and their families. We may have challenges on the road ahead, but we are committed to working together in pursuit of common goals: protecting the young and the vulnerable and helping victims/survivors and others heal. May God grant us continued guidance in this important work."

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