Nuisance claim can proceed against diocese

By David Unze
St. Cloud Times
June 30, 2015

A Stearns County judge has dismissed parts of a clergy sex abuse lawsuit filed against the Diocese of St. Cloud, but left in place a key claim that has led to the release of numerous priest personnel files in other suits across the state.

The lawsuit was filed in January by a former student at a Foley elementary school. He accused former St. Cloud diocese priest James Thoennes of abusing him years after the diocese knew the priest had abused other children.

The lawsuit accuses Thoennes of abusing the boy in the early 1970s when Thoennes was assigned to St. John's parish in Foley. The suit says Thoennes abused the child at Thoennes' mother's home in Central Minnesota, a place where Thoennes invited several children to accompany him on overnight visits.

The lawsuit also named the diocese as a defendant and accused the diocese of knowing that Thoennes had abused children before it assigned him to Foley.

Thoennes was deposed in September for a separate lawsuit and admitted sexually abusing at least five boys while working as a priest in the St. Cloud diocese.

The lawsuit accused the diocese of creating a "public nuisance" by not informing the public about Thoennes and more than two dozen other priests accused of sexually abusing children.

The diocese filed a motion to dismiss that public nuisance claim. Stearns County District Court Judge Kris Davick-Halfen denied that motion in an order filed late last week.

The public nuisance claim led to the release of numerous priest files in Ramsey County, where attorneys for clergy sex abuse survivors compiled thousands of pages of documents that were sent to law enforcement. That led to criminal charges being filed against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said Jeffrey Anderson, the attorney suing the Diocese of St. Cloud.

Anderson said Tuesday that he intends to seek the same types of priest files from the St. Cloud diocese and that he plans to make public what he can from those files.

Thoennes "does not have faculties to serve publicly as a priest and currently lives in St. Cloud under restrictions," according to a previous statement from the diocese.



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