Archdiocese to file motion with Minnesota Court of Appeals

| February 14, 2014

Judge’s rulings in alleged case of clergy sexual abuse are unsupported by state law and could damage the reputation of innocent priests, archdiocese says

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed a motion Feb. 13 with Ramsey County District Court Judge John Van de North asking him to put on hold rulings he made earlier in the week in a case involving alleged clergy sexual abuse of a minor.

The archdiocese also informed the judge that it would be appealing his rulings — which it believes are not supported by state law and could damage the reputations of innocent priests — to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, said Joseph Kueppers, archdiocesan chancellor for civil affairs.

At a hearing Feb. 11, Van de North said Archbishop John Nienstedt and former archdiocesan vicar general Father Kevin McDonough must submit to depositions taken by the alleged victim’s attorneys within 30 days and testify under oath about the archdiocese’s policies and procedures for handling clergy sexual abuse allegations. The judge’s order also requires that John Brown, a 93-year-old priest of the archdiocese who was permanently removed from ministry in 2002, be deposed.

Additionally, Van de North ordered the archdiocese to prepare and submit to the court by Feb. 18 the names of all priests accused of sexually abusing minors since 2004, regardless of the merits of the accusations.

His actions stem from a lawsuit involving a plaintiff known as “John Doe 1.” The plaintiff alleges that former priest Thomas Adamson, who had assignments in the archdiocese and Diocese of Winona, sexually abused him from 1976 to 1977 when he was a minor.

“We are appealing the rulings of Judge Van de North because his sweeping order allows for discovery efforts that are not related to the specific case before the Court,” the archdiocese said in a statement Feb. 14. The facts in the Adamson case have been well-documented in prior cases and have received extensive media coverage, it said.

“All we seek is a fair trial for all parties, and we want all parties to be required to follow the rules of court and the discovery rules in an equal fashion,” Kueppers said.

Archbishop Nienstedt did not arrive in the archdiocese until 2007 and “clearly has no knowledge that’s relevant to Doe 1’s claims from 1976 and 1977,” Kueppers added.

Father McDonough served as vicar general from 1991 to 2008. He was archdiocesan chancellor from 1987 to 1991.

Brown’s name appeared on a list of clerics believed to be credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor when the list was compiled by the archdiocese in 2003. The archdiocese said Brown has no information that is relevant to the “John Doe 1” case.

In addition to its concerns about the scope of the discovery efforts that Van de North is allowing, the archdiocese said his ruling that the archdiocese must submit to the court any allegation of child sexual abuse by clergy since 2004, regardless of an accusation’s credibility, jeopardizes the reputations of clergy who have been falsely accused. And it would force the Church to publicize even frivolous and malicious accusations.

Van de North said the list could be filed with the court “under seal” with an explanation about why it should not be released publicly. This would not, however, necessarily prevent it from becoming public later. The judge said the plaintiff in the Adamson case could ask the court to unseal the list.

The archdiocese’s appeal doesn’t change its commitment to transparency and ongoing disclosure, which it has already demonstrated, Kueppers said.

On Dec. 5, the archdiocese released the names of 33 priests that appeared on a list of clerics believed to be credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor when the list was compiled by the archdiocese in 2003. The disclosure also included Curtis Wehmeyer, a cleric who was criminally convicted of sexual abuse of a minor last year.

The archdiocese has devoted a section of its website — http://www.archspm.org — to ongoing disclosures. The Feb. 14 statement reiterated the archdiocese’s commitment to remove from ministry any clergy member with a credible claim made against him and immediately alert the public.

The archdiocese also hired Kinsale Management Consulting to conduct a third-party review of its clergy files. In late December, as a result of the file review, which remains in process, the archdiocese publicly disclosed the names of two priests, one of whom had a single boundary violation and another who had more than one boundary violation. Both agreed to take leaves of absence to allow for a complete review. They remain out of active ministry until the reviews are complete.

“We are committed and are working diligently on our file reviews so we can properly disclose names of all priests who have substantiated claims of abuse of a minor,” Kueppers said. “We have done that, and we will continue to do that.”

“We have communicated and reinforced repeatedly that our goals are to protect children, care for victims, and do all in our power to restore trust with the faithful and our clergy who are serving with honor,” the archdiocesan statement said. “We have made promises and we intend to keep them.”

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