The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has moved to block this week’s court order that Archbishop John Nienstedt testify about the church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse cases and release the names of all local priests accused of sexually abusing children since 2004.
In a request filed late Thursday in Ramsey County District Court, lawyers for Nienstedt said Judge John Van de North exceeded his authority by ordering the expanded list of abusive priests and compelling Nienstedt and former Vicar General Kevin McDonough to submit to questioning from attorneys of abuse victims. The archdiocese asked for the demands to be dropped while it proceeds with an appeal.
“The legal basis for the broad discovery permitted and the disclosures ordered by the court are highly questionable,” the archdiocese said in its five-page court filing.
In court Tuesday, Van de North ordered the depositions of Nienstedt and McDonough within 30 days and also ordered the archdiocese to create a list of all priests accused of sexually abusing minors since 2004.
The list, which the judge said must be prepared by Feb. 18, is in addition to a list of clergy accused before 2004, which was released in December. The new list is supposed to include all priests who have been the subject of abuse complaints since 2004, not just those church officials had determined were “credibly accused.”
“This is a very important case … This has become a bellwether case,” the judge said.
Van de North’s decision Tuesday was the first time an archbishop in Minnesota has been required to submit to a deposition that was not limited to a single alleged abuser, said St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson. Van de North also ordered the release of an unprecedented range of internal church documents, Anderson said.
The ruling came in the first lawsuit filed after state law was changed in May to allow decades-old cases of clergy sex abuse to be pursued. The suit, by “John Doe 1,” claims the Rev. Thomas Adamson was reassigned to Minnesota Catholic parishes decades ago even after church officials knew he assaulted children.
Lawyers for the archdiocese argued that Nienstedt should not have to answer for cases that occurred before he became archbishop.
Anderson said Friday morning that the move to block the testimony and release of records is hypocritical for church leaders who vowed transparency and obedience to civil authorities.
“They don’t want to tell the truth about what they have done to harm children,” Anderson said. “They say one thing, and do another.”
In a statement issued Friday, the archdiocese repeated that the church is committed to identifying clergy members with a “substantiated claim” of child sexual abuse.
“However, we must vigorously defend the rights of clergy members who have been the subject of false, frivolous or malicious claims against them,” the statement said.