Appeals court: Archbishop must testify in clergy abuse lawsuit
By Jean Hopfensperger
March 5, 2014
Archbishop John Nienstedt must testify under oath about the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ response to child sex abuse charges against local priests, the state Appeals Court affirmed Wednesday.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals refused to consider an appeal by the archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona, which were ordered by a court in February to make Nienstedt and a former vicar general, the Rev. Kevin McDonough, testify under oath about abuse complaints.
The action came in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by an alleged victim of former priest Tom Adamson. Ramsey District Judge John Van de North had ruled that Nienstedt and McDonough must provide sworn testimony on that case as well as others.
It was the first time a Minnesota archbishop had been ordered to testify under oath about more than one abuser, the victim’s attorneys said, allowing for questions about multiple cases over time.
Church officials had argued that Van de North overstepped his authority in ordering the depositions and in ordering the disclosure of the names of priests accused of sexual misconduct since 2004, regardless of whether the accusation was deemed “credible” by the church.
“They [church attorneys] asked for extraordinary and special treatment, and the Court of Appeals said no,” said Jeff Anderson, the abuse victim’s St. Paul attorney. “We are delighted we can now move forward and get to the bottom of this sorrowful and serious problem.”
“We appreciate that the Court of Appeals considered our appeal and issued a timely opinion today,” archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso said in a written statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with the courts to resolve the litigation.”
Requiring an archbishop to testify under oath about abuse cases is nothing new, Anderson said. He said he’s taken more than 30 depositions from archbishops and even cardinals across the country, including Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, Chicago Cardinal Francis George and the late Twin Cities Archbishop John Roach.
Nienstedt is scheduled to provide his deposition April 2, Anderson said. McDonough’s sworn testimony is scheduled for April 16.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of John Doe 1, was the first filed since Minnesota temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on older abuse cases last year. More than a dozen others have followed.
Last month the archdiocese provided to the court a list of priests accused of sexually abusing minors since 2004. That list was submitted under seal, but Anderson can petition for it to be made public.
The lawsuit behind the Court of Appeals decision was filed on behalf of a man who claimed he had been abused several decades earlier by Adamson. It contends that church officials in the Twin Cities and Winona put children and others at risk of abuse by failing to disclose information about priests who had been accused of abuse.
The Appeals Court order was filed Wednesday by Chief Judge Edward J. Cleary.