Attorney Jeff Anderson is calling on Gov. Mark Dayton to compel grand jury investigations across Minnesota to uncover clergy sex abuse and alleged coverups by Catholic bishops.
Anderson, a prominent and longtime advocate for victims of clergy sex abuse, said his demands were inspired by a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania released this month that found that about 300 Roman Catholic priests in the state had molested more than 1,000 children.
Surrounded by several survivors of clergy sex abuse, Anderson on Wednesday specifically called out the Dioceses of Crookston, St. Cloud and Duluth for not publicly releasing their files on abusive priests.
“They’re holding onto their secrets,” Anderson said, “… more should be done.”
Although county attorneys can convene a grand jury, Anderson said he wants Dayton to make a blanket call for grand jury investigations because there are several individual county attorneys involved. Anderson also said that some county attorneys he spoke to said they either wouldn’t or couldn’t convene such proceedings.
Anderson said he had reviewed the law and consulted with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office before speaking with someone in Dayton’s office about the matter.
But Dayton’s office had little clarity Wednesday about what role, if any, it could play.
“The governor has not received such a request before,” said a statement issued by Dayton’s press secretary, Caroline Burns. “Therefore, his office is first researching for any precedents and then analyzing the statutory authority on this matter. We will respond as soon as those reviews are completed.”
Robert Small, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, said he does not believe that the governor has authority to call for grand jury investigations.
Minnesota rules of criminal procedure and state law allow the District Court to convene a grand jury and govern its proceedings, the Attorney General’s Office said in a statement. The office also noted that unlike Pennsylvania law, the Minnesota Supreme Court has said that Minnesota grand juries cannot issue reports that identify individuals who have not been charged.
Grand jury investigations are needed in Minnesota, Anderson said, because the “playbook” Pennsylvania bishops used to cover up abuse is also used in Minnesota: failing to investigate allegations, providing housing and money to abusive priests, transferring abusive priests without explanation and withholding information from police, among other practices.
The Diocese of St. Cloud issued a statement saying it would “fully cooperate” with any grand jury investigation. The diocese also said it released 13,500 pages of documents about the abuse of minors to Anderson in 2016.
“In the interest of transparency and accountability, the bishop released four and a half years ago a list of clergy likely to have abused minors in the diocese,” the diocese’s statement said. “When additional clergy are identified, the list is updated.”
Anderson said the Diocese of St. Cloud’s release of documents was a “half measure” because it required a legal protective order that banned the documents from being made public.
Survivors who spoke at a news conference at Anderson’s office said Pope Francis’ recent letter of contrition about the Pennsylvania findings rings empty without action to back it up.
“It’s time that the truth … comes out,” said survivor Tom Mahowald. “It’s time for the laity, people of the church, to stand with us survivors.”
Anderson also accused the Dioceses of Crookston, St. Cloud and Duluth of either filing for bankruptcy or announcing bankruptcy plans to avoid disclosing their priest files and other documents.
Such declarations prevent plaintiffs’ attorneys from compelling the church to disclose evidence in civil proceedings, he said.
The Diocese of St. Cloud said it plans to file for bankruptcy in order to “ensure that the maximum amount of resources will be distributed equitably to all the victims and survivors while allowing the ministries of the diocese to continue.”
The Diocese of Duluth issued a statement defending itself and said it has given Anderson files of “all credibly accused priests,” and is filing for bankruptcy in order to compensate sex abuse survivors.
Anderson and about 450 victims filed claims against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for clergy sex abuse, resulting in a record $210 million settlement reached in May.
Archbishop Bernard Hebda, along with Tim O’Malley, director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment, and Tom Abood, chair of the Archdiocesan Financial Council and the Reorganization Task Force, issued a joint statement Wednesday criticizing Anderson for claiming that bishops used bankruptcy to disrupt his investigations.
“We were disappointed that Mr. Anderson criticized the bankruptcy process as a means of concealing the truth,” the statement said. “There has been disclosure by the Archdiocese at every stage of the bankruptcy process.”
The archdiocese said it continues to cooperate with Anderson’s office and shares the names of priests facing “substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor, as they come to our attention.”