“Former official: Archdiocese didn’t report priest’s pornography” & related article

Share Button

MPR News

Minnesota Public Radio

04 October 2013

By Madeleine Baran and Mike Cronin, Minnesota Public Radio

*   CLICK HERE to listen to the story; Church hid priest’s pornography from police, parishioners for years

CLICK HERE for Father Johnathon Shelley Police file

October 4, 2013 The archdiocese confiscated the pornography on Rev. Jonathan Shelley’s old laptop — some of which appeared to show children — but didn’t report it to police.

Upset that her superiors had refused to take action, a former church official reported to police that leaders of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis had kept secret for eight years images of pornography — some of it appearing to show children — belonging to one of its priests.

Jennifer Haselberger

Jennifer Haselberger is the former top canon lawyer for the archdiocese. She resigned in April. (MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson)

Jennifer Haselberger, the archdiocese’s former chancellor for canonical affairs, marched the images she’d found into the offices of one church leader after another in May 2012. But none responded.

The last straw for Haselberger came after she provided Archbishop John Nienstedt with copies of some of the images she had discovered in the archdiocese’s files on the Rev. Jonathan Shelley, 52. She said the photos appeared to show boys performing oral sex. The Rev. Peter Laird, the archdiocese’s vicar general at the time, Nienstedt’s deputy, ordered her to hand over the pornographic images.

“I did as I was told,” said Haselberger, who resigned in April. “I went back to my office. I closed the door and I called Ramsey County.”

But officers with the St. Paul Police Department’s sex crimes and vice units couldn’t find the child pornography that Haselberger had reported, despite multiple reviews of the three disks of evidence the archdiocese had handed over.

Investigating officer Sgt. William Gillet wondered in a report he filed Sunday whether he’d received what he asked for when visiting the archdiocese’s offices in March.

DocCloud No Computer

In the police report: “It should be noted I do not have the computer”

“It should be noted I do not have the computer [that housed the child pornography,] as we were told that was destroyed many years ago,” Gillet wrote in his report. “Whether these disks given to me were the actual disks or copies of those disks after first asking for them, I do not know nor will I most likely ever know.”

After speaking to Haselberger, Tom Ring, an Assistant Ramsey County Attorney who has served on an archdiocesan conciliation board, told Gillet that former Archbishop Harry Flynn had already looked into the Shelley matter. Flynn, Ring said, “didn’t believe there was anything further to do,” according to the police report. Attempts to contact Flynn, who retired in 2008, were unsuccessful.

Archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso told MPR News that no documentation exists that corroborates Flynn’s involvement.

“You’ve got hearsay from Jennifer,” Accurso said. “You’re talking about a retired bishop.”

Rev. Jonathan Shelley

Rev. Jonathan Shelley served at St. John the Baptist parish in Hugo, Minn., from 2008 to 2012. (Photo courtesy of The Citizen/Deb Barnes)

Federal law prohibits “possession of any image of child pornography.” Minnesota state law requires priests to report to authorities any indication that a child has been sexually abused within the last three years. Withholding that information is against the law.

Shelley, who lives in Minneapolis, denied he did anything illegal.

“There was no criminal stuff involved in it or wherever, and it was 10 years ago,” Shelley told a reporter from MPR News. “If you’re going to take my name and drag it through the mud now, 10 years later, for something that you clearly don’t know all the facts on, that’s something you’re free to do. But I’m not going to add to it.”

Nienstedt placed Shelley on sabbatical in June of last year. He had been assigned to the Parish of St. John the Baptist in Hugo, Minn., since 2008.

The Shelley episode comes less than two weeks after an MPR News investigation revealed that archdiocesan leaders hid sexual misconduct by one of its priests while allowing him to continue in ministry.

Also yesterday, Laird, who has been second in command at the archdiocese since 2009, resigned Thursday afternoon amid growing concerns over the way the archdiocese has handled allegations of clergy sex abuse.

“This was the computer from the parish priest”

Joe Ternus was the person who alerted church leaders to the pornography he found on Shelley’s computer. The priest, then assigned to St. Jude of the Lake parish in Mahtomedi, Minn., had given the laptop to Ternus’ father, who thought his grandchildren might use it for playing computer games.

“I mean, this was something that a bunch of 6-, 7- and 8-year-old kids were going to be using.”   – Joe Ternus

“It was graphic. It was hard-core,” Ternus said of the images he found on the laptop. “Just kind of freaked out everybody. I mean, this was something that a bunch of 6-, 7- and 8-year-old kids were going to be using, and this was what was on there waiting for them, if somebody hadn’t taken the time to go in and look for it. And apart from that, this was the computer from the parish priest where my family went.”

Ternus reported his discovery to the Rev. Kevin McDonough, then-vicar general and second in command at the archdiocese. He gave McDonough the computer’s hard drive so the archdiocese could investigate.

McDonough, he said, gave him all manner of assurances when they met about the pornography in 2004. “This was going to be taken care of,” he said. “Jon Shelley was going to get appropriate counseling, or however it was that they put it at the time.

“And the thing we all wanted to make sure was this wasn’t going to be treated like all of the things we’d seen in the news to that point, where people get picked up and moved around and things get swept under the rug.”

That was 2004, two years after the clergy sex abuse scandal rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Dioceses around the country were putting child safety plans in place, after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops mandated specific processes and protocols for protecting children and reporting suspected child sexual abuse and exploitation.

“Thousands of images”

Richard Setter & Associates, a private investigation firm retained by the archdiocese, hired a forensic computer expert to look at some of the files on Shelley’s computer. The search uncovered “thousands of images,” including some child pornography, police investigator Gillet wrote in his report Sunday.Haselberger had begun looking at Shelley’s personnel file in 2011 because the priest was up for a promotion. That’s where, she said, she discovered what looked like sexually explicit images of children.

The CDs from Shelley’s old laptop sat in the chancery — the archdiocese’s main offices on Summit Avenue in St. Paul — for four more years. In 2008, they were moved to the basement of the building.

Haselberger said the disks were stored with a warning.

“There was a handwritten note attached to those CD-ROMs in Fr. McDonough’s handwriting, saying something to the effect of ‘don’t insert these disks into a computer that’s attached to the Internet’ and ‘see previous report prior to viewing images,'” she said.

Haselberger told Laird what she’d found in Shelley’s file and on the disks. Laird told Haselberger to “put them back in the vault,” Gillet wrote in his report.

Rev. Peter Laird

The Rev. Peter Laird served as vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis from 2009 until his resignation Thursday. (MPR News photo/Jennifer Simonson)

Police asked church officials to turn over the evidence on March 5 of this year during a visit to the archdiocese’s main offices in St. Paul. The response of Andrew Eisenzimmer, the now-retired archdiocesan legal counsel and chancellor for civil affairs, to that request caught investigator Gillet by surprise.

“Eisenzimmer was visibly upset” and asked for the name of the priest involved, Gillet wrote in his report. “Eisenzimmer went so far as to say that he needed to know which property we were talking about. We were surprised with this, as it suggested to us the possibility that there might be more than one case of pornographic materials the church was dealing with.”

Gillet agreed to leave the archdiocese offices without the file containing the pornography and documents. He wrote in his report that he would call Eisenzimmer back with the priest’s name, then collect the evidence.

But church officials did not provide Gillet with anything until two days later when Tom Wieser, a St. Paul lawyer, called to say the sergeant could collect three computer disks from his office. Wieser declined to give Gillet the church’s internal documents, “saying they were the product of their investigation,” Gillet wrote in his report. “Such documents are not necessary at this time.”

Police closed the case Wednesday morning. No one has been charged with any crime in connection to the case.

Sasha Aslanian, Meg Martin and Tom Scheck contributed to this report


Archdiocese hid Hugo priest’s child porn stash, St. Paul police say


By Emily Gurnon


A police investigation into allegations that a Hugo priest possessed child pornography will not lead to charges against him — because the evidence was withheld by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a police report discussed in Ramsey County court Thursday.

The report by St. Paul police Sgt. William Gillet, dated Sunday, says he and Cmdr. Josh Lego met March 5 with Joseph Kueppers, chancellor for civil affairs for the archdiocese, and Andrew Eisenzimmer, who had retired from that position two months earlier.

They requested a “white banker’s box” that they had been told was in a vault at the archdiocese and contained information about the Rev. Jonathan Shelley.

An archdiocese official told them they would find computer discs with “thousands of images of child pornography” and reports that made reference to search terms such as “helpless teenage boys,” “naked boy pics” and “hard core teen boys.”

The discs came from a laptop computer owned by Shelley, the police report quoted the official as saying.

Shelley had sold the laptop at a rummage sale, and the person who bought it knew the priest was the former owner, the report said. The new owner found pornographic images and turned the laptop over to the archdiocese in about 2003.

His attorney asked a reporter to withhold Shelley’s name from the news report.

“It is unfair to name an individual who will never be charged but whose identity will now be forever tainted,” attorney Paul Engh said.

The official who alerted police, Jennifer Haselberger, was until April 30 chancellor for canonical affairs for the archdiocese.

She resigned, she said in a deposition filed in a Roseau County court case, because archdiocese officials did not tell police about potential crimes of Shelley and Curtis Wehmeyer.

Wehmeyer, formerly a priest at Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, was sentenced in February to five years in prison for sexually abusing two boys and possession of child pornography.

James Accurso, spokesman for the archdiocese, said Shelley, 52, was on sabbatical as pastor of St. John the Baptist Church of Hugo beginning June 15, 2012, and placed on leave March 30 of this year “pending the outcome of the police investigation.”

Accurso said the archdiocese was cooperating with the investigation.

Engh said church officials provided discs of the data from the laptop to police.

But Haselberger told police that some information must be missing.

She knew the archdiocese had hired Richard Setter & Associates, a private investigation firm. Setter in turn hired a forensic expert to examine the computer. Expert Gary Johnson “was instructed to view only some of its contents,” the police report said.

Johnson wrote in a report that he found 2,300 images, including those of a young boy performing oral sex on another male.

The report had been in the white banker’s box, Haselberger told police.

The attorney for the archdiocese, Tom Wieser, “declined to provide the written documentation (to police) saying they were the product of their investigation,” the police report said.

The then-vicar general of the archdiocese said Jan. 27 that he believed the images were child porn and ordered that all evidence be secured in the archdiocese vault, Haselberger told police.

When Gillet first approached Kueppers and Eisenzimmer in March and requested the banker’s box, “Eisenzimmer was visibly upset with the request and asked the name of the priest in question which at this time we did not have,” Gillet wrote.

“Eisenzimmer went so far as to say that he needed to know which property we were talking about. We were surprised with this as it suggested to us the possibility that there might be more than one case of pornographic materials the church was dealing with and so we asked for clarification. Eisenzimmer seemed to backpedal somewhat and said no, that he believes he knows who the priest is,” Gillet wrote.

The officers said they would call back with the name of the priest, and the archdiocese officials agreed to turn over the property.

“Kueppers very clearly said that no property or evidence would be destroyed and he would make sure it was held until we contact him further,” Gillet wrote.

The next day, March 6, Gillet contacted Kueppers, saying he needed the evidence. Kueppers said their attorney, Wieser, would call that afternoon to release it. When Wieser had not called by 2:30, Gillet called him. Wieser said he would release the material later that day or the next day.

On March 7, Gillet received a voice message from Wieser saying that three computer discs were ready for pickup, but that he wouldn’t release the written material.

Gillet’s expressed uncertainty in his report about what the archdiocese turned over.

“Whether these discs given to me were the actual discs or copies of those discs after first asking for them, I do not know nor will I most likely ever know,” Gillet wrote.

Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul lawyer who has sued the archdiocese and others over priest misconduct, represents a priest sex-abuse victim who moved to intervene in a Ramsey County civil case. The plaintiff wants the court to release a now-sealed list of 33 priests in the archdiocese who have been “credibly accused” of abuse.

That matter came before Judge John Van de North on Thursday. Wieser turned over Gillet’s police report to the judge and to Anderson, asking that it be entered into the court record only if sealed, to protect Shelley’s identity. The judge made no immediate decision on the sealing request.

Shelley was identified in court as “J.S.”

The Shelley case is an example of why the “credibly accused” list should be kept sealed, Wieser argued. There were “mere allegations” against Shelley that have not been substantiated, he said.

Wieser described Haselberger as a “disgruntled former employee.”

Anderson said Thursday that the police report confirmed “a long-standing practice by top officials, particularly in this archdiocese, to retain incriminating evidence, to keep it in vaults and to protect offenders.”

Anderson’s statement came 10 days after a public radio news report that the archdiocese possessed — but did not disclose to police or parishioners — information regarding Wehmeyer’s sexual behavior.

Posted: 10/03/2013 12:01:00 AM CDT

3 Responses to “Former official: Archdiocese didn’t report priest’s pornography” & related article

  1. Sylvia says:

    “A police investigation into allegations that a Hugo priest possessed child pornography will not lead to charges against him — because the evidence was withheld by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a police report discussed in Ramsey County court Thursday.”

    Ah, yes. Insufficient evidence!

    Surely there is a way to lay charges here? It sounds as though there are a few witnesses who could testify to the fact tat the child porn did exist and was in possession of the diocese? There must be something which can be done!

    • Miecul says:

      Par for the course, conceal & deny. They’re the experts. One really has to wonder, what side are they on. Truth or Lies, Openness or Deceit, Right or Wrong, Up or Down, Heaven or Hell, Jesus or Lucifer. They can’t really believe in Christ carrying on like this, can they? Unless they have a Sin-eater like in the movie “The Order” with Heath Ledger

      Those disc’s are long gone by now. She should have made copies. Time will tell.

  2. JG says:

    Did I miss it somewhere…that a “warrant” was obtained to secure the evidence??!!!… in the vault, in the files, in the back pockets! ..I am wondering about my reading and comprehension skills! Surely they are not just saying that they were counting on “goodwill” to get this evidence of pornographic and possibly abuse material. When police departments on a worldwide scale cooperate to make arrests related to material of this nature, this police investigation died with a simple refusal to hand over some of the evidence by church officials??!!
    This sounds like “intimidation” by the church and a lack of drive, passion, desire to solve by a police force or the community. Maybe too many blind easily influenced “followers” in the “department”??!!
    It looks like there is a fly in the ointment…or a missing spine in the challenger(s)…
    Doesn’t make sense.


Comments are closed.