Winona Diocese Ordered to Turn over Documents on Accused Priests
Winona Daily News
March 22, 2014
|The Diocese of Winona office in Winona.|
The Diocese of Winona must release all files it kept on priests accused of abuse, the latest update in a sprawling case against both the diocese and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that continues to grow.
A Ramsey County district judge this week ordered both the Winona diocese, as well as the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, to disclose their documents on priests by March 31. The documents may never see the light of day, at least not at first — they will be sealed and available only to the attorneys.
The documents will “really show what the bishops knew, when they knew it, and whether they concealed it,” said attorney Mike Finnegan in an interview Friday.
The Winona diocese did not respond to a request for comment.
In December 2013, the diocese released a list of 13 names of priests “credibly accused” of abuse, as well as an additional name of a priest accused of abuse since 2004. The diocese is now being asked to turn over all files pertaining to investigations into those priests, and each file could contain hundreds of pages of documents, Finnegan said.
The diocese in February was also ordered to release an additional list of any priests accused of abuse, and will also need to turn over all files pertaining to those investigations. All of that information, including the number of priests on the list, is also sealed.
Whether any or all of those files are made public will be the centerpiece of debate in the coming months, Finnegan said. The district judge has appointed a special master — an independent judge — who will review each file and make the ultimate decision, based on the definition of “good cause.” Just what that phrase means hasn’t yet been determined.
The plaintiff in the suit, identified as John Doe 1, alleges that in 1976 and 1977 he was sexually abused by Thomas Adamson, then a priest assigned to St. Thomas Aquinas parish in St. Paul Park. Adamson had been transferred from the Diocese of Winona to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1974, at which time church officials “knew or should have known” that Adamson had sexually abused children since 1964.
The suit, filed in June, was the first to be brought under the Minnesota Child Victims Act passed by the state Legislature and signed into law in May.
The term “credibly accused” has been hotly contested, and none of the Winona diocese priests tagged with the term have ever faced criminal charges, other than Leo Charles Koppala, who recently pleaded guilty to fondling a girl in Faribault County. The term comes from a nationwide study on child sexual abuse within the Catholic church conducted several years ago.