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Minn. church whistle-blower fears she ‘didn’t do enough’

Says warnings about child porn were ignored

Jennifer Haselberger said she left her archdiocesan job after not getting a response to her concerns.

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Jennifer Haselberger said she left her archdiocesan job after not getting a response to her concerns.

ST. PAUL — After she made her First Communion as a little girl, Jennifer Haselberger was distraught to learn the Catholic Church had no saint Jennifer, and she had no saint to call her own. So her mother opened up a book and pointed to Joan of Arc.

‘‘There. That’s yours,’’ she said.

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Years later, Haselberger is in a fight of her own after going public with claims that archdiocese leaders in St. Paul mishandled allegations of clergy sexual misconduct. Turns out, Haselberger may have borrowed a little bravery from the French heroine she has long admired.

Haselberger, a former canon lawyer for the archdiocese, took on leaders of the church she loves after she felt her warnings about troubled priests were being ignored, setting off a firestorm in the local church.

‘‘If a child was hurt, Jennie would do everything within her power to stop that. The lengths that she went to were probably heroic,’’ said Anne Maloney, Haselberger’s former college adviser.

Haselberger resigned in April after, she said, Archbishop John Nienstedt and others did not respond appropriately when she found pornography, including images of possible child pornography, on computer disks that once belonged to a priest who was still in ministry. This came after church leaders ignored her repeated warnings, she said, dating back to 2008 about another priest who went on to molest two boys in his camper in 2010.

‘‘I can never undo what happened to those boys, and that hangs incredibly heavy on me,’’ Haselberger said. ‘‘I didn’t do enough.’’

Haselberger said she resigned because church leaders weren’t listening, and she went to authorities and to the media because they wouldn’t change. Since then, Nienstedt’s top deputy has stepped down, and the church set up a task force to examine its policies and responses to sexual misconduct allegations. Police are also investigating.

‘‘I came to the conclusion that I was going to do whatever it took, that this was not acceptable . . . and let the chips fall where they may,’’ she said.

Haselberger has gone to law enforcement about two priests, and she says she had brought concerns about others to church leaders. She declined to elaborate, but said she expects more details will emerge.

Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said he could not comment on Haselberger or her resignation because it is a personnel matter. Accurso has said the information portrayed in the media is incomplete because it has been presented without context.

Tom Doyle, founder of the Catholic Whistleblowers group, said it is still rare — and risky — for someone from within the church to come forward and challenge bishops, whom he likened to absolute rulers.

‘‘Everyone I know of who has been a whistle-blower has sacrificed their career,’’ said Doyle.

While an undergrad at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Haselberger earned a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. She also became a leader of a student group that opposed abortion and advocated for valuing human life, Maloney said.

‘‘I never once saw Jennie back down from a conversation or dispute,’’ Maloney said.

Haselberger received her doctorate of philosophy at the University of London. She then began taking classes at Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, where she earned her licentiate in canon law.

While living in London, Haselberger organized a lecture about a woman who went to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated atrocities committed during the apartheid era, to seek amnesty not for violence or any other crimes — but for her apathy in apartheid-controlled South Africa. Her example inspired Haselberger.

‘‘That really resonated with me at the time . . . it’s such a phenomenal example of personal accountability,’’ Haselberger said.

Archdiocese attorney Tom Wieser said in a recent court hearing that Haselberger was a ‘‘disgruntled former employee’’ who was unauthorized to investigate allegations of child pornography but did so anyway, something he called ‘‘unsophisticated and imprudent.’’

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