Lawyers Argue over Local Priest Files

By David Unze
St. Cloud Times
March 28, 2016

Attorneys representing a man suing the Diocese of St. Cloud argued Monday that a Stearns County judge should order the diocese to immediately release personnel files of priests with credible allegations of sexual misconduct against them.

Jeffrey Anderson told Stearns County District Court Judge Kris Davick-Halfen that there is an ongoing threat to safety because the diocese hasn't turned over the files. He criticized the diocese for stalling on turning over the files.

The diocese's attorney, Thomas Wieser, argued that the names and work histories of those credibly accused have been public knowledge for more than two years and that Davick-Halfen should instead issue a protective order that would prevent sensitive information in those files from getting to the public.

Davick-Halfen took the matter under advisement and plans to issue a decision in early April.

The request for the priest files is part of a "public nuisance" claim against the diocese in a lawsuit involving the Rev. James Thoennes.

A former student at a Foley elementary school in January 2015 sued Thoennes, accusing him of abusing the student years after the diocese knew Thoennes had abused other children.

The abuse happened in the early 1970s, according to the lawsuit, 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 accuses the diocese of knowing that Thoennes had abused children before it assigned him to Foley.

Thoennes was deposed in September 2014 for a separate lawsuit and admitted sexually abusing at least five boys while working as a priest in the St. Cloud diocese.

The lawsuit against Thoennes accuses 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.

A judicial determination that a nuisance exists has led to the disclosure of priest files in other dioceses. Anderson told Davick-Halfen that the evidence to make a case that there was, and is, a nuisance is contained, in part, in those files.

Kettler released a list in January 2014 of clergy who were "likely involved in the past in the sexual abuse of minors." The list also included the parishes and/or schools where these individuals served.

Thoennes was included on that list. He does not have faculties to serve publicly as a priest and currently lives in St. Cloud under restrictions, according to the diocese.

Anderson repeatedly told the judge that there are less than 60 days remaining for childhood sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits under the Child Victims Act and that abuse survivors need to see what's in those files. That law created a three-year window to file a civil action for sexual abuse that previously would have been prohibited from litigation because of the statute of limitations.








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