Abuse Suit against Diocese, Ex-Priest Ends

By David Unze
St. Cloud Times (Minnesota)
January 25, 2006

ST. PAUL The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday dismissed the remaining counts of a sexual abuse lawsuit filed by a former parishioner against the St. Cloud Diocese and a former parish priest.

Stearns County District Court Judge Elizabeth Hayden had previously dismissed many of the claims made by Wayne Eller against James Thoennes, Bishop John Kinney and the diocese.

Tuesday's decision reversed her ruling that let stand a claim against the diocese.

In an unpublished opinion written by Judge Randolph Peterson, the higher court ruled that Eller did not present compelling evidence to show that the diocese was responsible for placing or removing priests. Without that proof, the diocese could not be held liable.

The crux of the ruling, said Thomas Janson, a diocese attorney, is that bishops, not the diocese, are responsible for hiring and removing priests.

The decision could affect how much Eller receives from his case. The parties had previously agreed to two settlement amounts $125,000 if Eller's claims were successful or $25,000 if the diocese, Kinney and Thoennes prevailed on a motion to dismiss.

Eller's attorney, Jeffrey Anderson, said there are no plans to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

"It's over for Wayne," he said. "It's unfortunate to the extent that this courageous survivor didn't get anything close to the full measure of justice."

Eller accused Thoennes of molesting him in the mid-1960s, when he was 11 and 12 years old, at a Sauk Centre home where Thoennes' parents lived. It was the second lawsuit accusing Thoennes of sexually abusing a student. The other was filed in the 1990s and was settled before trial.

In that lawsuit, Thoennes gave a deposition in which he admitted molesting at least four young people in three parishes from the 1960s to 1980s. Thoennes worked at the St. Anthony of Padua Parish school.

Defense attorneys argued that Eller waited too long to file the claims. The statute of limitations provides a time frame in which to file sexual abuse lawsuits.

The Court of Appeals decision doesn't address whether Eller's claims were timely filed.


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