Winona Diocese Required to Compile New List of Accused Priests
By Jerome Christenson
Winona Daily News
February 15, 2014
A Ramsey County district court judge has reaffirmed his order that the Diocese of Winona and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis disclose lists of all priests accused — not just those “credibly accused” — of child sexual abuse since 2004.
Judge John Van de North directed that the lists be provided to the court and plaintiffs’ attorneys by Feb. 18. The lists will be sealed from public scrutiny pending the determination by neutral parties if reasons exist why the accusations should or should not be made public.
The judge made his initial order in early January, after the release in December of lists of priests the church considered to be “credibly accused” of abuse. The judge’s order extended the disclosure to all priests who had been accused since 2004 — whether the church considered the accusation “credible” or not, the word used by a nationwide study on child sexual abuse within the Catholic church.
“To date the labeling of accusation as incredible, frivolous or groundless has been done by the defendants, and not by a disinterested party,” Van de North ruled. “It has been done in the context of canonical tenets and ecclesiastical processes whose relevance is a matter of significant debate.”
In other words — it’s time for a court to decide the validity of an accusation, not a diocese, Van de North ruled.
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 plaintiff’s attorney’s are seeking information of other abuse accusations in order to determine how church officials have dealt with clergy accused of abuse.
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.
In a related ruling, Van de North required Archbishop John Nienstedt and former Vicar General Kevin McDonough to give depositions in the case. Lawyers for the archdiocese are appealing that order.
“This ... has obviously become kind of a bellwether case,” Van de North said, “and a lot of these issues are getting addressed for the first time here, sometimes for the first time anywhere.”