The Twin Cities archdiocese will begin releasing its files on clergy child sex offenders to the court next week, but it is unlikely to include the entire 60,000 documents.
Facing a deadline next Tuesday for releasing the mountain of paperwork, the archdiocese on Thursday asked Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North for an extension.
Van de North said that if the church cannot produce all of the documents by Monday, the church should — for starters — provide those most relevant to the deposition of Archbishop John Nienstedt, which is scheduled for April 2.
But the delayed rollout could prompt another legal problem for the church. If documents released later require further questioning of Nienstedt, there will be a request for another deposition of the archbishop, said Jeff Anderson, attorney for the alleged victim whose case has prompted the document release.
Thurday’s hearing came in response to a lawsuit filed last May by John Doe 1, who claims he was abused by former priest Tom Adamson even after the priest’s sexual misconduct was known to the church. Adamson, who had worked in the Diocese of Winona, was transferred to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, where he allegedly abused John Doe in the 1970s.
Van de North set a Sept. 22 date for the trial to begin.
The judge said that he was open to “modest modifications” of the document release, but that it was important to keep all parties’ “feet to the fire” to keep the process moving.
“We’re pleased,” said attorney Anderson. “The judge is requiring [the archdiocese] to adhere to some deadlines. … We are going to move forward on the depositions. We are permitted to get some of the files.”
The archdiocese released a statement saying it was “pleased with the outcome of today’s hearing.”
“We look forward to working with the Court, the opposing parties and the Special Master to see that this case moves forward,” the statement said.
45,000 documents copied
The archdiocese has 45,000 documents copied for the court, and it has been working in earnest to produce the rest, Daniel Haws, an attorney for the archdiocese, told the judge.
“We have 10 people in my office,” said Haws, adding that archdiocese attorney Tom Wieser has roughly the same number of people working on the matter. “We’re trying our best,” Haws said.
He suggested that instead of trying to produce all 60,000 documents at once for the court, the archdiocese provide priority files for the victim’s attorneys, rolling out the documents more gradually. The release of documents from 2007 onward in advance of the Nienstedt deposition was a case in point.
Haws also requested that the priest files be sealed so that the public would not have access to them in order to protect the victims’ identities and other sensitive information.
But Van de North rejected the request, saying that such victim protections were already in place and that the archdiocese appeared to be equating the priest sex abuse files with employee personnel files. “These aren’t just personnel files,” Van de North said. “They contain very relevant information to prosecution’s complaint. … This is a different ballgame.”
The archdiocese then asked the court if the church could edit out survivors’ names on the files, noting that some survivors have entered into confidential agreements with the church.
Victim attorney Mike Finnegan said he opposed such a move, noting that the survivors could be crucial witnesses in the case. He also noted that his law firm has never divulged the names of abuse victims, even though it has worked on cases across the nation. Van de North rejected the church’s request.
Frank LoCoco, an attorney for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, joined the hearing Thursday, telling Van de North that in Milwaukee, mistakes were made during the rushed release of 60,000 documents as part of the archdiocese’s bankruptcy proceedings. Some information that should have remained confidential was released, said LoCoco, who urged the judge to relax his deadlines.
Van de North noted that the priest files are served only to opposing counsel and that the only way for the files to go public would be if Anderson would share them. “How is this sensitive information going to get out?” asked Van de North. “I’m just not seeing the problem.”
Finnegan, meanwhile, said the Milwaukee case is not an equal comparison to St. Paul, because the release of those documents came under a protective order that was part of a bankruptcy clause. Plus, the Milwaukee diocese had just 60 days to produce its files, not roughly 180 days as in St. Paul.
“The archdiocese has three times as much time as Milwaukee,” he said. “Now to come here three or four days before they are due, and saying there’s not enough time …”
Van de North set a May 30 deadline for both sides to produce all documents and depositions in its discovery phase of the case.