Attorney Seeking Priest-Bishop Conversation Information
May 10, 1983
A lawyer is seeking access to conversations between a Roman Catholic priest and his bishop as part of a lawsuit by a young man who says the priest sexually assaulted him.
Attorney Dennis Korman, representing an unidentified 18-year-old, filed suit last September against the Rev. Dennis Puhl, Bishop Paul Anderson and the Catholic diocese of Duluth.
Korman asked District Judge Donald C. Odden to decide if some conversations Puhl had with other clergy before 1980 are privileged under Minnesota law.
In a ruling April 27, Odden said he could not determine if the conversations, including confessions, were confidential but left open the possibility that he may rule on the question later.
"Sufficient foundation was not laid for this court to make such a determination," said part of Odden's ruling. "... The mere assertion of defendants that certain statements were confidential with nothing to verify the claim does not in and of itself make it privileged."
Defense attorney Sandra Butterworth, of Duluth, contended that only one conversation between Puhl and Anderson in 1977 would not be considered confidential. During that conversation, she said, Puhl talked with the bishop about seeking medical treatment, but no mention was made of any sexual problems.
Korman also asked for records of any psychiatric or psychological treatment Puhl received from June 1974 to September 1980. Odden ordered the defendant to submit the records to the court, so he can determine whether any reports should be made available to Korman.
Odden also ruled that Puhl must divulge names and addresses of all juveniles with whom he had sexual contact prior to September 1980. But he cannot be charged in those cases because of the state's three-year statute of limitations.
The judge said the names are necessary to determine if church officials knew of Puhl's sexual problems.
The 18-year-old and his parents are seeking more than $50,000 in damages against Puhl, Anderson and the diocese. Puhl pleaded guilty in December 1980 to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.
A 21-month prison sentence was stayed on the condition that Puhl enroll in a church-sponsored treatment program at St. Mathias rectory in Milwaukee. Puhl is now in Milwaukee working in another parish.
The lawsuit charges that church officials should have been aware of Puhl's sexual problems and were negligent in selecting him as a priest at St. Casimir's Parish in Cloquet.
Before serving at St. Casimir's, Puhl was an assistant pastor at Holy Spirit Parish in Virginia, Minn. While there, Puhl had "homosexual affairs" with a half-dozen boys under age 18, the last in 1977, according to the lawsuit.
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