Archdiocese Files to Prevent Archbishop Nienstedt's Deposition
By Emily Gurnon
February 14, 2014
|Archbishop John C. Nienstedt (Pioneer Press: John Doman)|
Hours after releasing a financial report that pledged greater accountability, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed a motion to prevent depositions of two top officials and "sweeping disclosures" regarding priests accused of sexual abuse.
Church officials want Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North to stay his Tuesday decision allowing depositions of Archbishop John Nienstedt, former Vicar General Kevin McDonough and accused priest the Rev. John Brown, while the archdiocese prepares to appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The Roman Catholic archdiocese also wants Van de North to stay his order, pending appeal, that it turn over names and other information of priests accused of child sexual abuse since 2004.
In the motion filed late Thursday in district court, the archdiocese said the "legal basis for the broad discovery permitted and the disclosures ordered by the court are highly questionable" and "cannot be undone once they are made by the archdiocese."
The depositions and other discovery, requested by sexual abuse plaintiffs' attorney Jeff Anderson, affect "the archdiocese's constitutional due process, equal protection and free exercise rights," attorneys for the archdiocese wrote in the motion.
On Tuesday, the archdiocese said it was looking "forward to working with the court and all affected parties to promote the protection of children, the healing of victims and the restoration of trust of the faithful and our clergy. ... At the same time, we strongly assert our pursuit of justice for any who are falsely accused."
On Thursday, it released for the first time a full, audited financial report for fiscal year 2013. A letter by Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche, posted on the archdiocese website, said the church opted for fuller disclosure "because we are accountable to the people we serve."
Anderson said the church's motion showed "their actions (are) not matching their words." Instead of accountability and transparency, he said, "they are dedicated to secrecy and deception."
Van de North's actions came in the case of John Doe 1 vs. the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, the Diocese of Winona and Thomas Adamson.
Adamson is a former priest who has been sued more than a dozen times for allegedly sexually abusing children.
On Friday, the archdiocese defended its attempt to prevent to the depositions.
"Over the past five months," it said in a statement, "the archdiocese has taken unprecedented actions to address open questions regarding clergy misconduct and our handling of these cases," including creating an independent task force and hiring an outside firm to review clergy files.
The archdiocese said it was committed to "ongoing disclosure of substantiated claims" of sexual abuse of children.
It was trying to halt Van de North's rulings because "his sweeping order allows for discovery efforts that are not related to the specific case before the court" involving Adamson, church spokesman Jim Accurso said in the statement.
"Our appeal also seeks justice for any clergy who have been and may in the future be falsely accused," Accurso said.
The Diocese of Winona also filed a motion for a stay of Van de North's order.
Anderson's firm filed memoranda opposing the motions late Friday.
Van de North had the authority to order the discovery, and the information the plaintiff seeks "is necessary to prove (his) ... claims," wrote Michael Finnegan, an attorney with Anderson's firm.
The issue is "purely a discovery dispute," Finnegan continued.
"If every party were allowed to appeal a discovery decision they were unhappy with, there would be a flood of appeals resulting in piecemeal litigation," the memo said.
The depositions were to take place within 30 days of the Feb. 11 order. Van de North told the archdiocese to submit the names of accused priests by Feb. 18. Those names were to be filed under seal, with disclosure to only the court and opposing attorneys, for now.
John Doe 1 is a Twin Cities man who sued in May, saying Adamson molested him in 1976 or 1977 when the priest served at St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park. The plaintiff also alleged that the archdiocese and diocese failed to respond adequately -- moving Adamson from parish to parish as allegations arose.
Anderson also wants to take the deposition of the Rev. John Brown, a 93-year-old priest living in Maplewood. Brown has been accused of sexual abuse by a different plaintiff.