Priest list still secret after ruling in Minn. sex case

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 25, 2012 - 9:36 PM

At stake in suit against a former priest were the names of 46 priests credibly accused of molesting kids.

The Minnesota Supreme Court Wednesday tossed out a lawsuit by a man who claimed he was molested by a Catholic priest in the 1980s, a ruling that means a list of 46 priests in the state credibly accused of molesting children will remain secret.

The 4-2 ruling reversed a Court of Appeals ruling and dismisses a lawsuit brought six years ago by Jim Keenan, 45, against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona. Keenan alleged the church allowed the sexual abuse to occur and then covered it up.

Keenan claimed he was not subject to the six-year statute of limitations that normally applies to abuse claims because he had repressed his memories of the event, delaying the claim. Although Keenan presented expert testimony to support his repressed memory claims, the court ruled that evidence wasn't scientifically reliable enough to bypass the statute of limitations.

Wednesday's ruling deals a blow to the campaign by Keenan's attorney, Jeff Anderson, to reveal the list of priests accused of sexual abuse involving minors. The priests' names are known only to the church and Keenan's attorneys. The list was sealed pending the high court's ruling.

"We got the wind knocked out of us; it's a knockdown," Anderson said Wednesday. "But until these guys come clean and are held accountable in a courtroom, we will continue to expose this injustice and long-term coverup."

Spokesman Jim Accurson said the archdiocese would release a statement, which hadn't arrived Wednesday evening.

'It was never about money'

Keenan filed his lawsuit in 2006, alleging he was abused by former priest Thomas Adamson in 1980 or 1981 while Adamson was serving at Church of the Risen Savior in Burnsville.

Keenan said church officials knew of other abuse complaints against Adamson, who has since been defrocked.

During litigation, Anderson obtained an archdiocesan list of 33 priests accused of sexual abuse involving minors. The Diocese of Winona has a similar list with 13 alleged abusers.

Anderson pressed to make both lists public, but a Ramsey district judge ordered them sealed pending the Supreme Court decision. Now that the lawsuit is thrown out, the list will remain sealed indefinitely.

Keenan said that's what stings most about the loss. He went public with his allegations in 2010 after the archdiocese asked the court to make him pay $64,000 in legal expenses, a request later withdrawn.

"My case was never about money, it was about getting this list in the public so that children and families can feel safe," he said. "I can't think of a dollar amount that would make me feel better about another victim getting hurt. There's not enough money in the world to make that OK."

Adamson, 79, now lives in Rochester. He has been named in multiple lawsuits but never faced criminal charges because of the statute of limitations. Defrocked in 1984, he is not welcome at schools or parishes in the diocese.

Not scientifically established

Ramsey District Judge Gregg Johnson dismissed the case in October 2010, rejecting the reliability of repressed-memory claims. The Court of Appeals reversed that ruling last summer, reviving the lawsuit.

But the Supreme Court sided with Johnson, reasoning that studies and expert testimony regarding repressed-memory research were unreliable because the accuracy of recovered memories "has not been scientifically established."

In the majority opinion, Justice G. Barry Anderson wrote that because Keenan's experts testified there was no way to tell the difference between repressed memories and simply forgetting, they could not support an argument that someone has repressed memories.

In his dissent, Justice Paul H. Anderson wrote it is "beyond dispute" that Adamson had a long history of molesting children and that the archdiocese knew about it, leaving the key question of when Keenan began to remember the abuse.

He argued that the experts should be allowed to testify only about the characteristics of repressed memory, not whether Keenan suffered from it.

Justice Helen Meyer joined Justice Paul Anderson in his dissent. Justice David Stras did not take part in the case.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called the order "tragic and potentially dangerous" because the names of the alleged abusers will remain cloaked in secrecy.

"Ultimately, Jim can heal himself, regardless of what judges or bishops do," Clohessy said. "But kids can't protect themselves without this information."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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