Judge Gives Archdiocese More Time to Name Accused Priests
By Jean Hopfensperger
January 3, 2014
A Ramsey County District judge on Friday gave the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis more time to release a second list of priests accused of child sexual abuse, shifting the deadline from Monday to Feb. 5.
Judge John Van de North also reiterated that the new list, which covers priests accused of abuse from 2004 to the present, would include all priests who faced accusations, not just those deemed “credibly accused” by the archdiocese. That was the standard for the first, older list of priests, released last month.
The ruling applies to both the Twin Cities archdiocese and the Winona diocese, which had been named in an abuse victim’s lawsuit that compelled the release of the lists.
Archdiocese lawyers had gone to court Friday to argue that some priests have been falsely accused of child abuse and that their names should not be made public.
Van de North said he understood the importance of protecting reputations of innocent clergy, but the charges were serious.
“We’re talking about accusations of child abuse,” said Van de North, noting that the list doesn’t even include priests accused of sexual misconduct with “married women or men.”
Van de North urged attorneys for both the archdiocese and for an alleged victim of former priest Thomas Adamson — whose case prompted the release of the lists — to work together to devise a formula that insures that all names are revealed but that innocent parties are spared public exposure.
The judge rejected an archdiocese proposal to first allow the church 30 days to investigate an abuse claim. The archdiocese is not a neutral party for evaluating whether a claim is true or false, Van de North said, noting that it has failed to report cases of abuse in the past.
Likewise, the archdiocese’s criteria for evaluating sexual misconduct can be “fuzzy,” he said. The archdiocese, for example, said it suspended two priests for “boundary issues” — Rev. Joseph Gallatin of the Church of St. Peter in Mendota and Rev. Mark Wehmann of St. Boniface Catholic Church in Minneapolis.
“One person’s boundary violation is another person’s sexual abuse,” said Van de North.
The judge suggested both sides find a neutral party to assess the accusations, or possibly even a three-person panel that could determine what information could be kept confidential.
Van de North asked the archdiocese to submit a procedure for doing that by Jan. 10.
He gave the victim’s attorney, Jeff Anderson, until Jan. 17 to respond. Both sides will return to court Feb. 5.
Archdiocese attorney Tom Wieser had argued that releasing all names of the accused priests could harm the reputation of innocent clergy. He asked that only “credibly accused” priests be on the new list.
“Rumors spread by a mentally unbalanced individual, by a disgruntled parish employee, by conservative parishioners disliking a liberal pastor [or vice versa] … would have to be publicly disclosed without regard to credibility,” wrote Wieser in a Dec. 18 letter to Van de North
Wieser also argued that requiring the archdiocese to reveal names of all priests accused of child sexual improprieties — who had not been charged or found guilty — would set a precedent for social service organizations, schools and other groups.
Van de North disagreed, saying that there is a difference between other social service groups and the archdiocese, namely that the archdiocese has not historically reported its abuse to police.
During the hearing, Wieser proposed a process for revealing names that would require the archdiocese to first send abuse allegations to law enforcement.
Anderson supported that proposal but said statutes of limitations that prevent charges from being filed against abusers shouldn’t prevent the release of an abuser’s name.
Friday’s hearing came in response to a lawsuit by “John Doe 1” last May, who claimed he was abused by Adamson even after the priest’s sexual misconduct was known to the church.
Adamson, who had worked in the Winona diocese, was transferred to the Twin Cities archdiocese, where he allegedly abused a young man at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in St. Paul Park.
The archdiocese said in a statement that it “looks forward to working with the Court and all affected parties to promote the protection of children and the healing of victims as we also address these reasonable concerns.”
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511