Your Tax Dollars at Work: Minnesota Public Radio Manufactures Story and Repeatedly Smears Innocent Priest

Madeleine Baran : Madeleine Baran MPR

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story:
Minnesota Public Radio's Madeleine Baran

Madeleine Baran and Tom Scheck of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) recently trumpeted the lurid story that a computer owned in 2004 by a Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis contained e-mail messages that "may have included inappropriate correspondence" with a "possible minor," thus suggesting that the priest might be a child molester.

Indeed, any story about a Catholic priest committing a crime with a minor is not only troubling but big news, and the duo's eye-opening story received wide media attention.

However, as it turns out, the priest, Rev. Jonathan Shelley, a popular cleric in his region, was simply corresponding with a longtime friend who was not a minor at all.

So in other words, for the simple sake of generating publicity and attracting an audience for themselves, MPR's Baran and Scheck used salacious innuendo and utter speculation to plaster an innocent priest. (Note the hedging language of "may have" and "possible minor" to protect MPR from a defamation action.)

Not the first time MPR attacks Fr. Shelley

Tom Scheck : Tom Scheck MPR

Nasty journalism:
MPR's Tom Scheck

What led the pair to darkly suggest that Rev. Shelley's e-mail messages may have been illegal? We have no idea, because apparently the messages were so unremarkable, that when the duo contacted the Minnesota resident who actually saw Shelley's e-mails, he could not even recall their contents.

Listen to MPR's bogus attack:

And it turns out that this was not the first time that MPR's Baran attacked this very same priest.

Earlier, Baran published another salacious story about Rev. Shelley suggesting that he possessed child pornography. Baran reported that a disgruntled former employee of the archdiocese gave police "images of pornography" that used to belong to Shelley, some of which, in her view, "appear[ed] to show children."

Yet multiple forensic examinations by police of these very same images determined that they were not child pornography, and police closed the case. [Police have since reopened the case citing "new evidence," but it appears the only "new evidence" is the public pressure generated by the mob of media outlets swarming to piggyback on MPR's sleazy reporting. And it should be noted that the source of the false story was a disgruntled ex-employee, Jennifer Haselberger.]

So even though Rev. Shelley was already completely exonerated by law enforcement, that did not stop Baran from publishing a story insinuating that he possessed illegal pornography and that the Church somehow illegally "hid" the priest's pornography from police.

The Church, like any other organization, is under no obligation whatsoever to report adult pornography to law enforcement, or even to the Vatican for that matter. Yet in an effort to malign an innocent man and tarnish the archdiocese, Baran clearly suggests that the Church should have done so.

MPR's not-so-hidden agenda

There is a lot more to say about MPR's reckless reporting about alleged sex abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

It is no secret that the proudly "progressive" MPR loudly championed the successful cause for gay marriage in Minnesota, a measure which the Catholic Church vociferously opposed. Thus there is little doubt that MPR's newfound concern over 10-year-old computer images is merely cover for its efforts to damage its opponent.

The public should be fully aware that MPR has now twice publicly smeared an innocent priest who has never committed any crime whatsoever. And because of the intense media circus rashly instigated by MPR, a return to public ministry for Rev. Shelley is highly unlikely.

The unapologetically false attacks on an innocent priest by MPR's Madeleine Baran should be universally denounced, and Baran should issue a public apology to Rev. Shelley.

[Note: As of the publication of this post, Madeleine Baran has not returned multiple phone calls from seeking comment about her reporting.]


  1. Amanda says:

    MPR is liberal radio pure and simple. 

    Is it any surprise that they hate the Catholic church and have defamed this priest?

  2. Frank says:

    This wont come to an end until one of these priests finally sues the daylights out of folks like Baran for libel.

  3. Ken says:

    Naturally the sleazy reporters don't talk when TMR calls them for a comment.

  4. Ted says:

    I no longer support National Public Radio because of their pro-abortion and pro-same sex union promotion. I am also aware that, when seeking commentary about the Catholic Church, NPR tends to seek someone from the National Catholic Reporter, a liberal publication. I am not suprised by the reporting of MPR, but it strengthens my decision to never financially support public radio.

    • josie says:

      We have not supported them for years-used to be generous because we listened to the classical music.

  5. Roger says:

    More of the same from National Liberal Radio.

  6. mary heins says:

    It's unfortunate if he is truly innocent.  One's reputation can hardly be restored — and that's the msot valuable thing a person has, imo.  However, be careful.  Where there's smoke, there's fire.  Not many guilty priests have yet been held accountable — they've been moved around and often out of the country.  Their names have been redacted from reports to the attorneys and they have ingratiated themselves into the lives of parishioners and children.  Just protect your kids.

    • Dennis Ecker says:

      Two thumbs up Miss Heins. “Just protect your kids” In the end that is what its all about.

  7. Dennis Ecker says:

    It seems NCR has written an article that better explains the reasoning
    for the investigation into Shelley being reopened by the police and not by a attack by two reporters or “the mob of media outlets.”

    The article also draws to light the questionable actions of the catholic church and the actions of Shelley himself. Why would an individual who has nothing to fear destroy a computer with a hammer which is part of an investigation by the police ? And if the church claims not to protect abusers be involved with placing material into a secret vault.

    • Catherine S says:

      I don't know about the rest of the general public but everytime we throw away a computer we destroy the memory panels.  Who knows what personal information is stored there for opportunists to retrieve: bank accounts, credit cards, SS#, insurance, etc.?  I don't think incapacitating a throw-away computer is unusual – it's good common sense.  I tell my children to do the same thing.  If they investigated everyone who did this, it would be quite a pile of suspects!

  8. Julie says:

    "Just protect your kids is what it's all about." The anti-Catholic detractors on here including Dennis have demonstrated over and over again that that is NOT what it's all about to them. The Media Report's SUPPORTERS are in favor of protecting innocent priests, NOT the guilty ones, and for protecting ALL children, not just those with claims against the church, which settles without question, from 30 years ago, that lawyers can sink their teeth into and bundle to get huge payouts. ALL children. And continuous protection and safeguards. All children, unchurched, churched, evangelical, in schools, etc. I know of a young girl, 12, I think, in my town who has attempted suicide several times b/c her mother is using her to get psych meds for the child that she herself abuses, and whose stepfather has abused her sexually. I am praying for her. No lawyers are calling her to come forward. SNAP isn't knocking on her door offering help. She's in the system now and hopefully she can get some major help and protection, and not be failed by the people who are supposed to protect her. People, children are being abused NOW. Where are the groups putting out press releases looking for THESE KIDS? SNAP only cares if a priest groped me 50 years ago. So does Laurie Goodstein.

  9. dennis ecker says:

    If a priest is innocent great. But I believe the jury is still out on Rev. Shelley. The investigation into possible wrong-doings is still underway, and it has nothing to do with the media or us anti-catholic detractors.

    We have heard numerous times Father so and so could not have done such a crime only to hear a jury of that priests peers sentence him to prison. We know of one author who in his book stood behind a priest and defend his innocense only for that priest to be sentenced for decades in prison for abuse.

    I believe Julie your heart is in the right place, but you are asking were the groups are in protecting children like the 12 Y.O. you speak about ? LOOK IN THE MIRROR. There is no groups needed such as SNAP. Only you. If you know of a child being treated wrong or abused you alone can be that child's hero simply by picking up a telephone.

    • Publion says:

      We are once again given a link-less comment (the 7th, eleven past midnight – a late-night comment) by ‘dennis ecker’. I have found the NCRep article to which I think it refers (see first link below). I don’t see where that article “better explains the reasoning” as to why the investigation was re-opened. The NCRep articles states that Archdiocese “has been accused of withholding from police images of child pornography” but it doesn’t say by whom the accusations were made, yet certainly it hasn’t been accused by law-enforcement.

      It is difficult – what’s new in these cases? – to establish a factual timeline from the various articles. As best I can determine, Fr. Shelley (henceforward: ‘Fr.S’) sold his laptop at a rummage sale sometime in 2003. That new owner discovered a cache of photos on it which did or did-not strike him as possible child-pornography (it’s not quite clear what he thought at the time) and he contacted the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese had a forensics expert examine the photos and that expert advised that he did or did-not find a few of the photos to be “borderline” child-pornography (a somewhat difficult phrase to establish legally because of its vague parameters, although possession of material so characterizable is a crime). The Archdiocese at some point contacted the police who conducted what the Archbishop describes as a seven month investigation (see second link below) and had found nothing actionable on it, after which, if I am correct on the timeline, the images were placed in a secure file or vault at the Chancery.

      Somehow the computer (and the images on it?) “was destroyed” at some point in the past decade (it doesn’t say by whom – the new owner or the Archdiocese, although the article later implies that the Archdiocese had somehow gotten the computer as well as the contents back from the new owner) and that the police were told (when?) that “there appear to have been additional images that have gone missing” (how do they know and who told them so and how did that person know?). (I note that the article ostensibly quotes police reports but doesn’t give even the most minimal date-information.)

      And things remained thus – with a new Archbishop coming into the picture – until a Ms. Haselberger, an Archdiocesan official overseeing sexual-conduct affairs, resigned this year after about half-a- decade’s tenure in her job and simultaneously reported to MPR something along the lines of what is being reported now. The Fr.S material appears ancillary to her claims about a Fr. Wehymeyer, since removed and convicted of child-abuse. (Oddly, (see third link below) she had at some point apparently reviewed the Fr.S cache and found images that she “feared might involve minors and constitute child-pornography” (or else she didn’t review them and simply “feared” on her own; had she reviewed them then – I would think – she would have herself been bound to notify the police but at some point the police had checked the files with the results as noted above).

      It’s hard to get a solid grip on the fact and timeline here. And now (see fourth link below) – to move the questionability quotient up a notch – that former ‘new owner’ who had originally purchased the Fr.S computer at a rummage sale a decade ago (and somehow reviewed the photos and then not-contacted the police but instead gave the photo file(s) and – perhaps – the computer itself back to the Archdiocese) now reports that he had totally forgotten that he had made a complete copy of the photos all those years ago and had it hanging around the garage or basement. It is this ‘new’ evidence that apparently constitutes the basis of the police re-opening their investigation now. (Although the question as to whether this gentleman’s long-stashed file is itself tainted or whether it validly constitutes evidence of what was on the Fr.S computer remains to be seen and addressed.)

      As with Stampede trials, Stampede ‘reporting’ just never seems to be straightforward and coherent.

      As to the Eckerian leading-questions, I am not sure where Fr.S destroyed his computer with a hammer. Or is there some Eckerian confusion here? As to the placing of the material in a secure (obviously not “secret”, since people knew of its existence, including Ms. Haselberger herself) vault (or file cabinet): I could see the personnel office wanting to keep a priest’s stash of adult pornography (there appeared to have been no child-pornography on it) in case of future disciplinary or personnel actions. Surely any competent criminals – as one commenter on the first-link’s NCRep article noted – would simply destroy everything, and especially the cache of (allegedly) incriminating photos themselves. Or perhaps instead of framing the Church as the varsity Mob we are now to presume that they are the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Who knows where so oddly-shaped a ball might bounce here?

      For that matter, I recommend a reading of the comments on that NCRep first-link article. Aside from what one might expect, there are some questions raised that no reporting has adequately answered: Why did that ‘new owner’ not go to the police (he made himself a copy of the cache, after all, so a phone call shouldn’t have been too much of a stretch)? And if a priest robbed you at gunpoint, would you call the police or call the Bishop?

      (I would also note, on a slightly different tack, an NCRep commenter’s insistence that persons who are not themselves ‘victim/survivors’ have no business telling self-declared ‘victim/survivors’ how to deal with their issues. Which prompts in me the thought that given the nature of human life, just about every one of us is a victim/survivor of something and there are probably very few persons (especially given the broad range of what can victimize one these days) who haven’t had actual experience with coming-to-grips with an instance of victimization and are thus ‘credentialed’ – as it were – in that skill.)

      Then (the 7th, 515PM) we are informed (by what appears to be a different ‘dennis ecker’ – or different Wig – from the branding-cattle commenter of a few days back) that “if a priest is innocent great”. Well that’s nice to hear (this is a much nicer Wig that he’s got on here). There is, however, no “jury” empanelled in the matter of Shelley and indeed we have yet to see the results of a police investigation of this ‘new’ evidence and indeed – as mentioned above – we have no sure and certain knowledge about the provenance and quality of this ‘new’ evidence.

      We have not all that often seen priests claiming innocence and then sentenced to prison by a jury of their peers (to the extent that any of these Stampede trials are reliable to begin-with). Indeed, the recent Philly trials have offered no such consoling confidence and the most recent is under appeal. Perhaps commenter Ecker could share that “one author” that “we know of” who supported a priest who was later convicted (see my immediately foregoing sentences), rather than – characteristically – leaving us with nothing to go on in regard to an assertion he has made. And, as I have often said, there is some question about the integrity of Stampede trials to begin-with, and few if any of the ones we have seen offer grounds for confidence (we think also of the Ritual Satanic Day-Care Child-Abuse trials of 30 years ago, and how they were ultimately discredited and almost all of them somehow annulled or reversed).

      And then the incoherent “there is no groups needed such as SNAP”, followed by the equally incoherent “Only you.”.  I always wonder what is deranging this commenter’s grammar and thinking when we see material such as this; usually it seems that he has lost his grasp on the material or he is trying to avoid having the material go somewhere he doesn’t want it to go.

      He then offers the sage advice that if one knows of children being abused, then one should call the police forthwith. I completely agree. Which again raises the question I recently raised about his own knowledge of Catholic priest-abuse: if he “knows” so much for certain, why has he not been on the phone to 911 rather frequently? And why that ‘new owner’ of the computer a decade or so ago went to all the trouble – allegedly – of making a copy of all the porn, but not going to the police (although the possibility remains that he reviewed all the photos, found no child-porn or anything that seemed to him to be such, and for whatever reason made a copy of the cache for himself).

      At any rate, I personally am concerned on both sides of the coin here: first, the usual dodgy and queasy Stampede ‘reporting’ and whatever may underlie it. And second, the fact that there are priests who are sufficiently damaged as to be amassing and harboring extensive (the number 2300 has been mentioned in reports) porn photo collections, even if they are legally possess-able. The maturity of priests must be a vital and primary concern of the episcopacy and of the Church.

      But in regard to that last sentence, and to save us some time here, I am not going to leap from the reality that some priests are porn-addicted to the pandemonium visions of a worldwide sex-conspiracy of rapine and cover-up.

  10. Alice says:

    Nice job TMR!

    Good post.

  11. Oumou says:

    At least Masterpiece theater was good.

  12. dennis ecker says:

    A pastor of a Northeast Philadelphia Catholic church who was accused of sexually abusing children 45 years ago has resigned and moved out of the parish's residential premises, according to a memo to parishioners.

    The Rev. John P. Paul, pastor of Our Lady of Calvary Parish since June 2000, voluntarily resigned "so that the best interest of the parish could be served," according to the memo by Sister Mildred Chesnavage and Jeanne Costello,


  13. Publion says:

    Rather than address any of the issues raised about the case discussed above, ‘dennis ecker’ will simply find another pile of plop to toss up at the screen, although this time he provides a link – to a short article dated Sunday the 10th that (in best Stampede-reporting style) raises far more questions than it answers.

    The link is to an oddly written article in which we are informed that a Philadelphia pastor accused of sex abuse of children 45 years ago (that is, in 1968) has just resigned because the “the Church was made aware of the allegations against [him] earlier this year” and – yet – “the authorities declined to press charges”.

    Readers may wish to consider how such dots could connect. To whom and by whom were the accusations made in 1968? How and by whom where the accusations made to “the Church” “earlier this year”?

    The Church apparently took all the proper actions this year – notifying the police (who have “declined to press charges”). The pastor was not removed but rather voluntarily resigned – and given his minimum conceivable age at this point was probably close to retirement anyway.

    Having neatly donned the Wig of Outraged and Indignant Righteousness and refusing to address any of my comments (which, I can only say, is a decision not without its up-sides), ‘dennis ecker’ has slyly absolved himself of the need to explain any problems with his material. So we can expect no further explanatory bits on the problems with this online Philadelphia Inquirer ‘report’ (unless, perhaps, JR will channel “Dennis” for us in yet another helpful séance). But rationally and coherently explaining was never the gameplan anyway; plop-tossing was the game from Day One.

  14. Julie says:

    Dennis, None of us are disagreeing with you. All guilty priests should be punished. However, I do believe they should receive some type of due process first,, like anybody else. The bishops, etc., are just throwing accused priests under the bus. Settlements are given out with no proof. So the priest voluntarily resigned. Does that mean he is guilty, is that what you are saying? I am alarmed at the witch hunt aspect to this whole thing. I am NOT alarmed that guilty priests receive punishment.

  15. Catherine S says:

    If it turns out that Fr. Shelly is proven innocent AGAIN….I will personally make it my mission to exploite the fact that MPR has besmurched his reputation.  I for one no longer give money to MPR.  This has gone beyond reporting by MPR….it is now personal with them.  And to think that their origins are St. John's University.