Number of Priests Accused Child Sexual Abuse Triples

By Madeleine Baran
Minnesota Public Radio
August 4, 2014

Victims' attorneys Mike Finnegan (left) and Jeff Anderson (right) outside the Ramsey County courthouse on Aug. 4, 2014. Madeleine Baran/MPR News

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has acknowledged that at least 103 priests have been accused of child sexual abuse -- more than three times the number previously disclosed to the public in December.

The total includes the 34 priests "credibly accused" of abuse whose names Ramsey County Judge John de North ordered the archdiocese to release in December.

The disclosure of the full list came in a court document cited in a hearing today by Mike Finnegan, an attorney for a man who claims in a lawsuit that the Rev. Thomas Adamson sexually abused him in the 1970s. The total number of archdiocesan priests accused of child sexual abuse had not previously been reported.

At the hearing, Van de North contrasted Archbishop John Nienstedt's recent promises of transparency with the archdiocese's legal efforts to keep the names of many accused priests private. "It does seem to be a little bit of retrenchment again," he said.

For months, lawyers for the archdiocese have argued aggressively that many priests have been falsely accused and that their names should not be released. Van de North agreed last year to place the names of the so-called "non-credibly accused" priests under seal. He appointed a special master to oversee requests to unseal names and address other disputes.

But it remained unclear how many priests' names had been sealed.

In an interview after the hearing in Ramsey County District Court, archdiocese lawyer Tom Wieser declined to explain how the archdiocese determines whether an allegation is credible. He also declined to say whether the archdiocese has reported every allegation to police.

Over the past eight months, the archdiocese has released another 14 names of priests whose abuse allegations it describes as "substantiated." It's not clear whether those names are among those sealed by the judge.

In the past year, the archdiocese has turned over the names of accused priests and their files to attorneys representing the man who said Adamson abused him. The man has sued the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona, claiming that both creating a public nuisance by keeping information on abusive priests secret.

The case has allowed victims' attorneys Jeff Anderson and Finnegan to question Nienstedt under oath and receive thousands of documents on priests accused of abuse dating back decades.

At today's hearing, Van de North heard arguments from both sides on whether to change the criteria for deciding whether to unseal the names of accused priests. Robert Schumacher, the special master appointed by Van de North to handle disputes over documents and other issues, decided in a June 6 order that the allegations must be "determined credible and reliable" or "meet the definition of sexual abuse" under Minnesota law.

Finnegan, the attorney for the man who said Adamson abused him, asked the court to loosen the criteria so that it would include priests with a "propensity" to abuse children.

"This might be one of the most important issues in this case," Finnegan said.

He gave the example of the Rev. Joseph Gallatin, a priest who was placed on leave from his assignment as pastor of the Church of St. Peter in Mendota in late December.

In a news release on Dec. 29, 2013, the archdiocese said Gallatin engaged in "a single incident of inappropriate conduct with a minor many years ago involving a boundary violation." It said that an "outside professional review team" hired by the archdiocese "has concluded that the incident did not involve a crime."

Finnegan said that the current criteria might not allow the names and files of priests like Gallatin to be disclosed.

Internal archdiocesan documents reviewed by MPR News document a 1998 incident in which Gallatin rubbed the chest of a teenage boy under his shirt while he slept in a bunk bed. Gallatin explained at the time that he wanted the boy to stop snoring, but later admitted to then-vicar general Kevin McDonough and then-chancellor Bill Fallon that the incident provided sexual gratification, according to a July 30, 2002 memo from Fallon to Archbishop Harry Flynn and McDonough.

Fallon's memo described the reaction to the touching incident. "The following day, the young man reported this incident to other counselors and Fr. Gallatin apologized but also saying that he was trying to wake him up," it said. "The young man said, 'Then why did you have your hand under my shirt?' Gallatin said, 'I don't have an answer to that question.' Subsequently, when asked by his pastor what had happened and if it was something sexual, Fr. Gallatin acknowledged that it was, but stated he did not mean for it to happen."

The memo continued, "In a subsequent meeting with Fr. McDonough and me, Fr. Gallatin admitted that there was some sexual pleasure in this touching ... In subsequent reports from Dr. Barron, Fr. Gallatin has reported that he has learned to acknowledge his sexual attraction to males and realizes that he may have sexual attractions to male as young as twelve although his primary interest is in older teenage males."

In June, Nienstedt removed Gallatin from his parish assignment and said he would reassign Gallatin to a position "where he will not have any role in a parish setting or any other setting in which he will have vocational responsibilities that involve minors," according to a June 22 statement from the archdiocese.

The statement repeated the archdiocese's earlier characterization of the incident as a "boundary violation" and said that Gallatin "rubbed the sleeping teenager's chest and abdomen, under the shirt, because the teen was snoring." The statement does not mention Gallatin's reported sexual interest in teenage boys or his claims to church officials that the incident was sexually gratifying.

Finnegan said the Gallatin case shows why it's important to broaden the criteria for releasing the names of accused priests. "If there's a priest that's sexually attracted to boys as young as 12 years old, that's something that should be disclosed," he said.

Attorneys for the Winona diocese and the Twin Cities archdiocese argued that the information needs to be kept private to protect the reputations of falsely accused priests.

Thomas Braun, an attorney for the Winona diocese, argued that the victim's attorneys had also missed the deadline to request changes to the criteria - and that the court had heard similar arguments in the past. "The reality is the plaintiff is seeking a second bite at this apple," Braun said.

Braun defended the Winona diocese's response to clergy sexual abuse. "The Diocese is going above and beyond what's required by law to ensure that children are protected," he said, citing mandatory trainings for lay employees and others on child sexual abuse.

Wieser, the archdiocese's attorney, told Van de North he could provide a "long list" of "false, fabricated and baseless accusations" of child sexual abuse by priests.

"There is no reason why the reputations of those priests should be sullied," Wieser said.

Van de North said he would take the issue under advisement and issue a ruling soon.

Van de North also denied a motion by the Diocese of Winona to move the trial to another county. The diocese had commissioned a phone survey of 302 prospective Ramsey County jurors that found that 81 percent of those polled said they knew something about the case - and that 45 percent of those residents said they knew enough to render a verdict, Braun said.

"There is a bias and there is a preconceived notions that have been formed by the citizens of Ramsey County," he argued.

Van de North dismissed the poll results. "It doesn't seem like an awful lot of people are disqualified at this point from the jury pool," he opined.

He also said there's no evidence that jurors elsewhere would have less knowledge of the case, given the widespread online coverage.

Van de North acknowledged the extensive media coverage of the hearing by MPR News, the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press, but said, "unless there's some evidence that the reporting has been false, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing."

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Aug. 15. A trial is set for late September.








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.