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Letter Raises Questions On Church Task Force Effectiveness

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- WCCO-TV has obtained an internal Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis letter saying a high-ranking church leader will personally control what files a task force on clergy sex abuse will have access to.

The letter, from the Reverend Reginald Whitt to all priests in the diocese, says that he will decide which files the task force can look into. Earlier this month, the task force was formed to look into claims of clergy sex abuse and an alleged cover-up by the archdiocese.

However, Whitt's letter to priests raises questions about whether or not the task force has the ability to operate independently of the archdiocese.

Web Extra: Download The Letter

In the Oct. 21 letter, Whitt -- a law professor at St. Thomas and the newly-named vicar for ministerial standards -- wrote that the task force will be reviewing clergy files as part of the archdiocese's investigation into clergy sexual misconduct.

"Access to these files," Whitt wrote, "will be within my control and limited only to what is necessary for the task force to be able to make an informed decision."

We showed that letter to attorney Jeff Anderson, who has represented numerous victims who were sexually abused by Catholic priests.

"It looks to me like it's more of the same -- secrecy on secrecy on secrecy," he said.

The task force was formed in the aftermath of allegations by a top former diocese official that other top officials with the church including, Archbishop John Nienstedt, not only knew about abuse but covered it up.

That official, Jennifer Hasselberger, resigned her post with the archdiocese in protest.

At a news conference earlier this month, Whitt stressed the task force would be independent and that none of the six members are clergy.

"It's so that there be no hint, no impression, no appearance of clerical favoritism, no clubbiness or any other things that might taint the integrity of their product," Whitt said then.

The chair of the task force, Kathy Digiorno, said the task force is committed to independence and that she believes it will have the resources it needs to operate as such.

Anderson, the attorney, says the letters indicate that is not possible.

"What the task force has access to is what the archbishop chooses to let them see," he said.

Last week, Nienstedt admitted mistakes in the handling of abuse cases and apologized.

A statement from the archdiocese Tuesday said: "The Task Force is focused on thoroughly examining any and all issues related to clergy sexual misconduct. We expect their findings and recommendations will focus on policies, procedures and practices and not individual clergy files.

The investigation of clergy files announced last week is being conducted separately and, unlike the Task Force, will focus on the review of individual files."

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