The auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Andrew Cozzens, was there, along with Tim O'Malley, who is the Director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment. O'Malley is a former FBI man and judge. They covered, in general, the charges against Fr. Fitzpatrick and answered, to the extent they could, a variety of questions from the parishioners.
The challenge that Archdiocesan officials face is twofold -- how to ensure that the process is fair, and how to deal with the reality that the Archdiocese is going through bankruptcy. A few particulars:
- Since Fr. Fitzpatrick is pastor at two churches, St. Rose and nearby Corpus Christi, it was important to get another priest into position, serving as a canonical administrator. The new priest's name is Fr. Jim Devorak, who comes to the position after serving as a priest in the New Ulm Diocese, mostly in parishes in the southwestern part of Minnesota.
- The investigation of Fr. Fitzpatrick has two tracks -- first, the criminal investigation, which falls to Ramsey County, and then the internal investigation that the archdiocese will conduct. The process could take a long time. If the county investigators believe a crime has been committed, then the question comes down to whether the statute of limitations has run. It is possible that the law enforcement officials will determine that the allegation is without merit as well. Given the high profile that abuse cases have, it's likely the criminal investigation will take place sooner than later. Since the allegations go back potentially 30 years or more, it's difficult to say how much time it will take.
- The archdiocesan process will follow the criminal investigation and involves a 12-person review board that includes two diocesan priests and 10 lay people.
- Some of the questions that the parishioners have can't be answered, at least not directly. The identity of the accuser and the potential of a civil lawsuit are things that the archdiocese can't discuss. And because the archdiocese is bankrupt, they have severe limitations in what they can do because all expenses end up getting scrutiny from the judges and trustees administering the bankruptcy, to say nothing of Jeff Anderson and the other attorneys who have been chasing the archdiocese for years.
- As I mentioned in my earlier post, we are relatively new to St. Rose, but it is evident that Fr. Fitzpatrick is much beloved. The sense you get from the parishioners is incredulity that their beloved pastor could have done such a thing. Based on my limited dealings with Fr. Fitzpatrick, it does seem implausible, but I would imagine similar accusations against other priests must have seemed implausible as well. We don't know what happened, or didn't happen, all those years ago.
- What's difficult about the process is that, for the moment, Fr. Fitzpatrick has to stand alone and apart from the archdiocese. Given the history, it has to be this way. There can be no possibility that the archdiocese is seen as harboring a potential fugitive priest. In some respects, Fr. Fitzpatrick is paying for the sins of others. It may not be fair, but that's how it is.
- Parishioners asked if they could take up a legal defense fund for Fr. Fitzpatrick. The bishop indicated that this could be done, but was hesitant to say more. He also discouraged the notion that the parish could take up a second collection at Mass for such a fund.
There's more to the story, but it will have to wait until tomorrow.