Judge orders ex-vicar general to answer more questions
By Jean Hopfensperger
June 25, 2014
|The Rev. Kevin McDonough has been a diocese point person in priest sexual abuse cases.|
Judge rules that the Rev. Kevin McDonough must testify again, but not Archbishop John Nienstedt.
The Rev. Kevin McDonough, former vicar general of the Twin Cities archdiocese, must submit to another round of questioning on the church’s handling of clergy sex abuse, a Ramsey County district judge ruled Wednesday.
However, Judge John Van de North rejected a move to require Archbishop John Nienstedt to return for further questioning.
The order came during a hearing in which attorneys for an alleged victim of priest sex abuse asked the judge to order the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese to provide personnel and computer files on priest sex offenders.
The hearing was part of a lawsuit filed last year on behalf of a man who claimed he was abused in the 1970s by former priest Thomas Adamson, who was transferred to the man’s St. Paul Park parish after facing similar abuse charges in Winona.
Van de North ordered McDonough to testify for another 2½ hours, noting that he “appears to be a central figure” in the handling of sex abuse allegations locally for the Catholic Church.
In addition, the archdiocese had provided only about half of its roughly 100 priest files before McDonough’s April 16 deposition, and the plaintiff’s attorneys argued that denied them access to considerable information relevant to its questioning.
Nienstedt would not have to return, the judge said.
“It seems to me he has responded to a lot of questions by saying he didn’t have firsthand knowledge of a lot of these matters,” Van de North said.
Tom Wieser, attorney for the archdiocese, said the church welcomes the opportunity for McDonough to return to testify, “while it wasn’t our first choice.”
Anderson said the ruling will allow attorneys to continue to unearth information on how the archdiocese has handled abusive priests.
“We’re comforted to know that more information that needs to be revealed is going to be,” he said.
Anderson’s suit contends that church officials here and in the Winona Diocese put children and others at risk by failing to disclose information about priests who had been accused of abuse. It was the first filed under a new Minnesota law allowing the court to hear cases that otherwise would be too old under Minnesota’s statute of limitations.
The lawsuit has sparked an unprecedented release to the court of archdiocese files on abuse by priests: 46,000 pages of written documents and 5,500 pages of electronic documents, Wieser said.
But Mike Finnegan, one of the attorneys representing the alleged victim, argued that the church should have far more e-mails and other electronic documents. The Diocese of Winona, also a defendant in the suit, has 100,000 pages of electronic data on just 14 priest offenders, he said.
“The archdiocese has nearly 50 perpetrators,” said Finnegan, “so it’s almost impossible for us to believe there are only 5,000 pages.”
But Wieser said that because many of the cases are decades old, there is no electronic record.
“The allegations go back 20, 25, 35 years,” said Wieser. “It’s not really a surprise that most of the documents are in paper format.”
Van de North ordered both sides to have their experts submit affidavits to the court outlining the cost and scope of providing more comprehensive electronic data.
The judge also said he’d consider allowing the plaintiff’s attorneys access to “actual devices” — such as computers or cellphones — of three or four key archdiocese officials.
Anderson also asked the court to require the archdiocese to submit its files from the former priest personnel board, which evaluated priest assignments. Wieser said that the personnel board files are protected by the First Amendment.
Van de North did not immediately rule on the request.