Judge Orders Names of Accused Priests Released
By Emily Gurnon
December 2, 2013
Two Roman Catholic dioceses have until Dec. 17 to release the names of 46 priests "credibly accused" of sexually abusing children, a Ramsey County judge ruled Monday.
The list includes 33 priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The other 13 are in the Diocese of Winona. One, the Rev. Thomas Adamson, is on both lists, an archdiocese attorney said.
District Judge John Van de North also ordered release of names of more recently accused priests who are not among those numbers.
The 46 names have been under a protective order by Ramsey County District Judge Gregg Johnson since April 2009. But Van de North said Monday that he wanted them made public.
"I think it moves the ball considerably down the field from where we were even a week ago," Van de North said.
Releasing the names removes the "lightning rod" that the list has become and gives potential victims who have not yet come forward the comfort of knowing they are not alone, he said.
Thomas Wieser, an attorney for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said that of the 33 names on the archdiocese's list, all had been removed from ministry since at least 2005. Nine of the priests are dead, he said. The dead priests' names will be disclosed, Wieser said.
Spokesman James Accurso said the archdiocese would post the names on its website and in the archdiocesan newspaper, the Catholic Spirit, on Thursday. Most of them have already been "previously identified in media reports," he said.
Van de North's order contained a loophole: Church officials can keep certain names secret if they provide "a detailed explanation" about why they should not be released, and if the judge agrees.
Jeff Anderson, attorney for the plaintiff in the case before the court Monday, said, "The extent to which we trust the archdiocese and the diocese to make a full and open and transparent disclosure -- obviously, we're skeptical."
Yet he called the judge's order a victory for abuse victims.
"Today marks the beginning of a safer time in our community," Anderson said.
The disclosure follows a statement Nov. 11 by Archbishop John Nienstedt that he would release a list of those priests with "substantiated claims against them" of sexual abuse of minors.
It was unclear how that list would differ from the 33 "credibly accused" priests in the archdiocese and 13 in the Diocese of Winona whose names had been under the protective order.
Wieser said the four clerics the archdiocese did not want disclosed were a member of a religious order who did not serve in the archdiocese and three whose allegations had not been substantiated.
Those three are now the subject of a review by former Hennepin County attorney Tom Johnson, Wieser said. The archdiocese hired him to review those files, Wieser said.
Anderson asserted at the hearing that as long as the church continued to investigate sexual abuse claims in-house, rather than turn them over to police, their reviews would be a sham.
Van de North said he agreed that the reviews must "be done by a neutral party." He said the archdiocese has "made some progress" in that respect.
The judge said officials in both the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona also must disclose by Jan. 6 names and other information of priests accused since 2004, when the original list was compiled.
Wieser said the Twin Cities archdiocese had only one person in that category. That person was Curtis Wehmeyer, who was convicted in February of molesting two boys and possessing child pornography, said Joseph Kueppers, chancellor for civil affairs for the archdiocese.
But Accurso's statement indicated that the list would be updated "regularly" as the archdiocese's review of clergy files continues.
Besides the names of the accused priests, Van de North ordered disclosure of their year of birth and current age; their year of ordination; whether they are alive and, if dead, year of death; the parishes where they served; their present ministerial status; and their current city and state of residence, if known.
The Diocese of Winona argued against releasing any of its names. Attorney Thomas Braun said church officials used a "very low threshold" when it included the names in the first place and that the accusations were "absolutely unsubstantiated."
Anderson, who has filed motions to have all the dioceses of Minnesota to release their lists of "credibly accused" priests, said he hoped other judges would follow Van de North's example.
Megan Peterson, the Twin Cities leader for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said in a statement that the lists to be released by church officials won't include all predator priests.
"We suspect that records have been destroyed and that abuse reports against dozens of credibly accused clerics have been wrongly deemed 'unsubstantiated' by self-serving Catholic officials over the past few decades," Peterson said.
The group said it was grateful to Van de North, and urged the archdiocese and diocese to release the alleged abusers' names immediately, rather than waiting until the deadline.
Victims' names will be kept confidential, the judge said.
Van de North had called the parties together for Monday's hearing in the case of John Doe 1. The Twin Cities plaintiff sued the Archdiocese of St. and Minneapolis, the Diocese of Winona and former priest Thomas Adamson on May 29, alleging Adamson sexually abused him while working at St. Thomas Aquinas parish in St. Paul Park nearly 40 years ago.
As a part of the lawsuit, Doe 1 requested a court order requiring that the archdiocese and diocese publicly release their lists of "credibly accused" priests.
The lists came out of a 2004 study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
The study counted victims of clergy sexual abuse over the previous 50 years, with perpetrators' names provided by the dioceses and archdioceses.