Judge Grants Archdiocese More Time to Name Accused Priests
By Emily Gurnon
January 3, 2014
|Here are some of the photos of those priests and monks listed as suspected of sexually abusing children. Above: Thomas Adamson (Courtesy of Jeff Anderson)|
A Ramsey County judge has given the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona an additional month to disclose the names of priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children since 2004.
Those names were to be disclosed by Monday; the new deadline is Feb. 5.
At the same time, Judge John Van de North took church officials to task for failing to report previous cases of abuse to police and for recently using terminology like "boundary issues" to describe certain priests' behaviors.
"I don't think anybody knows what that means," Van de North said. "One person's boundary violation is another person's sexual abuse."
The archdiocese used the term in reference to allegations against two priests who were suspended Sunday: the Rev. Joseph Gallatin of the Church of St. Peter in Mendota and the Rev. Mark Wehmann of St. Boniface Catholic Church in Minneapolis.
Attorneys for the archdiocese and diocese, as well as plaintiffs' attorney Jeff Anderson, appeared in court Friday to discuss the judge's Dec. 3 order regarding priests accused of abuse.
A list of "credibly accused" archdiocese priests compiled by 2004 was released Dec. 5. The Winona diocese released its 2004 list Dec. 16. The judge set Monday for disclosure of priests accused since then.
The church attorneys argued there was a danger in revealing too much about the more recent cases.
"If mere accusations must be publicly disclosed regardless of credibility, there is an obvious risk of destroying the reputations of completely innocent priests," wrote Thomas Wieser, attorney for the archdiocese, in a Dec. 18 letter to the court.
He and Thomas Braun, attorney for the Diocese of Winona, said it was unclear whether the judge wanted the names of priests "credibly accused" or merely accused.
As written, Wieser wrote, the judge's Dec. 3 order would require disclosure of any accusation, "regardless of whether it is manifestly false, frivolous or malicious."
Van de North told the attorneys his order should have been clear.
"My use of the broader term 'accusations' was deliberate," he said.
Wieser also argued that if the judge were to require disclosures of priests merely accused, it would establish a precedent whereby schools, social service organizations and other groups would have to operate by the same standard for any of their staffs accused.
The difference, Van de North countered, is that those other groups have promptly reported such accusations to the police, which was not the case for the archdiocese.
Anderson, who represents a man allegedly abused by priest Thomas Adamson, scoffed at Wieser's statement.
"There's no other organization that keeps secrets and protects offenders and is complicit in crimes time and time again, and has a recorded history of having done so," he said outside the courtroom. "And I've been litigating against organizations across this country in sexual abuse for three decades."
At the outset of the hearing, the judge made it clear to the church attorneys that the church can no longer rely on internal reviews of child sex abuse allegations.
"It's my sense ... that there's a need for a neutral assessment" of such allegations, he said. People hired by the archdiocese to perform reviews -- such as former Hennepin County attorney Tom Johnson -- may be very qualified, but "he's still the archdiocese's guy," the judge said.
Van de North acknowledged that the disclosures involve a weighing of opposing interests.
"I think that everyone in this room, if you're going to tilt it any way, you're going to tilt it in favor of protecting children," he said. "I hope that's the case.
"I want to emphasize this: We're talking about accusations of child abuse," the judge said, not priests merely violating their vows of celibacy, for instance. "It's any accusations of child sexual abuse that we need to know about, and then (decide) how do we handle this."
In a written statement issued later Friday, archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso said Van de North "considered the reasonable need for potential third-party review of claims that could be false or frivolous.
"The archdiocese is grateful to the court for considering the importance of avoiding needless damage to the reputations of clergy members who have been falsely accused," Accurso said.
Van de North told Wieser to file a letter by Jan. 10 with an amended proposal for how to handle the disclosures. He gave Anderson until Jan. 17 to file his proposal. The judge will then clarify his order.
If church leaders believe there are priests who face fabricated or baseless allegations, those cases could be reviewed under seal either by the judge or by a neutral party, the judge said.
The court hearing came as part of a lawsuit by a Twin Cities man. John Doe 1 alleged in May that he was abused by Thomas Adamson, and that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona failed to respond adequately.
Adamson had admitted he molested boys in the Winona diocese, yet was transferred to the Twin Cities archdiocese and allowed to work at St. Thomas Aquinas parish in St. Paul Park, among other locations, with no warning to families, according to the suit.
It was at St. Thomas Aquinas that Adamson abused Doe 1, the lawsuit alleges.