Abuse Case against Diocese of Winona Headed for Trial
By Jerome Christenson
Winona Daily News
September 4, 2014
A Ramsey County judge has refused to halt legal action brought against the Diocese of Winona and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis by a Twin Cities man who claims to have been sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest nearly 40 years ago.
The man — identified in court documents only as John Doe 1 — claims church authorities were negligent by assigning a priest known to have sexually abused boys in the past to ministerial positions where he would have ready access to children and failing to inform parishioners of the priest’s history. The suit further claims that church leaders created a “public nuisance” by failing to warn parishioners about the priest.
Judge John Van de North’s ruling means the case against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona will be the first clerical sexual abuse case nationwide to use the public nuisance theory at trial, attorneys for the plaintiff said Wednesday. The public nuisance claim has already led to the unprecedented disclosure of tens of thousands of church documents and the names of dozens of accused priests.
“Failing to disclose information about an accused priest is akin to, and conceivably more offensive and dangerous, than other acts that have been considered public nuisances,” Van de North wrote in his order dated Tuesday. Harboring worrisome dogs, maintaining houses of prostitution, and swearing in public have been found to be public nuisances, the judge said.
The judge’s ruling quotes a 1984 letter from Winona Bishop Loras Watters to Archbishop John Roach in which Watters states:
“I am very sorry that Father Adamson’s many talents continue to be compromised because of his involvement with juvenile males; and all the more so now that his irresponsible conduct has now become a matter of public record. ... When I asked you to consider helping Father Adamson in January of 1975 I indicated that I could no longer ask him [Father Adamson] to accept pastoral responsibility in the Winona Diocese because of the same type of problem.”
Jeff Anderson, an attorney for the victim, called the ruling a breakthrough in child protection efforts.
Tom Wieser, an attorney for the archdiocese, said Wednesday he was not surprised by the judge’s order. He said from the judge’s perspective, there is enough information under the law to allow the claim to move forward.
Lawyers for the church had argued the claim should be dismissed, saying it doesn’t meet the legal criteria for a public nuisance, which Minnesota law defines as “unreasonable interference with a right common to the general public.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Diocese of Winona indicated it will continue to contest the case. “The Diocese of Winona has developed programming and requires training of all staff and volunteers associated with our parishes and schools to ensure the protection of our children. To suggest that the Diocese of Winona constitutes a public nuisance fails to recognize the significant efforts undertaken by the Diocese of Winona to protect children entrusted to its care. The Diocese of Winona’s internal policies seek to educate and encourage reporting of any sexual misconduct,” the statement reads.” The Diocese of Winona will therefore continue to vigorously defend against this claim and seek a just resolution to this case.”
This lawsuit was filed in May 2013, the first filed under a law that opened up a three-year window for victims of past sexual abuse to file claims that were otherwise barred under the statute of limitations. The plaintiff claims he was abused by Thomas Adamson in 1976 and 1977, when the victim was an altar boy at St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park.
Adamson, who admitted in his own deposition for the Doe 1 case that he abused around a dozen teens from the 1960s to the mid-1980s, was removed from active ministry in 1985 and defrocked in 2009. He was never criminally charged but has been the subject of previous lawsuits by other victims.
The case is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 3.