Victim's Attorneys Press St. Cloud Bishop to Release List of Accused Priests
By Marta Jewson
St. Cloud Times
January 2, 2014
Jeff.jpg St. Paul-based sexual abuse attorney Jeff Anderson, right, holds a copy of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Robert Ethen in St. Cloud Thursday. The suit calls on Diocese of St. Cloud to release a list of credibly accused priests. / Dave Schwarz, email@example.com
Sexual abuse survivor Robert Ethen and his attorneys, Jeff Anderson and Mike Bryant, are calling for Bishop Donald Kettler to release a list of 26 priests in the St. Cloud diocese accused of sexual abuse.
At a news conference Thursday Anderson said a civil lawsuit filed this week in Stearns County District Court was an “invitation” for Kettler to “step up and simply do the right thing.”
Anderson, who represents many clergy sex abuse victims, said he believes there are likely many more abusers, and their names must be publicly released to protect the community.
Ethen said when he first went to inform the local diocese of the abuse he was nervous he would not be taken seriously. But when he named Father James A. Thoennes as the offender, he said, the person he was talking to pulled out a large file tied to the priest.
It is that file, and the files associated with 25 other priests, that Ethen and Anderson hope will be released in addition to the names themselves.
In 2003 the diocese said there were 26 priests who had been accused of sexual molesting minors, but they have remained unnamed.
“So if they had 26 credibly accused in 2003, how many did they have in 2014?” Anderson asked.
Up to this point it has been the diocese that has determined which accusations are considered credible.
“The bar that they put on credibly accused internally, historically, is very high,” Anderson said, adding that knowing the total number of priests accused is also important.
When given the chance to speak Thursday, Ethen dropped his head in his hands before addressing the media gathered for the news conference. He described himself as a survivor, a father and a grandfather.
“I don’t want another child hurt,” Ethen said, while explaining his decision to file the lawsuit.
Robert Ethen explains legal action against Diocese of St. Cloud
The lawsuit accuses Thoennes of abusing Ethen in the mid-1960s. Anderson says the diocese is doing the community a disservice by keeping the 26 names secret.
“As a result,” the suit states, “children are at risk of being sexually molested.”
The suit details a history of sexual abuse by Thoennes. It says the diocese ordered chemical dependency treatment and sex offender counseling for him.
Ethen has already settled with the diocese once, in a 1993 lawsuit that stretched into 1994. That lawsuit accused Thoennes of sexual battery, breach of fiduciary duty and negligent counseling.
Anderson has sued other dioceses in the state. Lists of names were released in December by the Minneapolis-St. Paul archdiocese, Winona and Duluth dioceses, and by St. John’s Abbey. The releases came after a Ramsey County judge ruled that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis could release a list of priests with credible allegations of sexual misconduct against them.
“We’re imploring you to not fight this any longer,” said Anderson, who is based in St. Paul.
St. Cloud diocese officials have not returned Times requests for comment.