St. Paul archdiocese asks for more time, more protection in priest files

Church asks court for extension to produce list of 40 allegedly abusive priests, and limits on disclosure.

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Facing a key court hearing Thursday, the Twin Cities archdiocese has asked the court to give it more time to turn over its church files on sexually abusive priests and to limit the files’ public disclosure.

“This is an exhaustive, time consuming and extremely expensive and burdensome process,” said a memorandum filed Monday by archdiocese attorneys in Ramsey County District Court.

The archdiocese was ordered in February to give the court its records on about 40 priests who had been credibly accused of sexually abusing children from 1970 to the present. It was given a March 31 deadline.

The church has asked Judge John Van de North to extend the deadline by 90 days. On Thursday, Van de North will hear their arguments in court, along with renewed requests to seal the sworn testimonies of Archbishop John Nienstedt and former vicar general Kevin McDonough, the archdiocese’s point person on abuse for decades.

Meanwhile, Van de North on Tuesday appointed retired Judge Robert H. Schumacher as a special master for the case, to address disputes over the likely hundreds of documents and depositions, as well as to make recommendations about unsealing information. Schumacher served 12 years in Hennepin County District Court and 18 years on the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Lawyers for the alleged victim whose case set in motion the court order for the priest abuse files oppose the archdiocese requests for what they call “more time and more secrecy.”

“We requested these documents back in November, five months ago,” said Mike Finnegan, an attorney at Anderson Advocates law firm, which is representing John Doe 1, an alleged victim of former priest Tom Adamson in the 1970s.

“The judge ordered them to be reproduced in February. The archdiocese has told the court they’ve hired an outside firm, Kinsdale Management, to review them.”

Arguing there isn’t enough time “is another attempt for them to keep their secrets and delay information from coming out,” he said.

But the archdiocese argues that they have 44 years’ worth of documents to produce for the court. The process of reviewing them is underway “but it simply will take time,” wrote church attorneys Daniel Haws and Tom Wieser.

Dueling depositions

The legal wrangling also intensified over depositions to be taken in the John Doe 1 case.

As the Anderson law firm prepares to take Nienstedt’s sworn testimony April 2, the archdiocese has scheduled a deposition of John Doe 1 and his wife — and possibly his friends, family, co-workers and employers. Anderson’s firm filed a protective order Tuesday to block depositions from family members who don’t know about the abuse.

The archdiocese argued that depositions are needed to assess the impact of the abuse and damages claims.

“It is impossible for the archdiocese to adequately defend the claims of the plaintiff in this case without having the opportunity to ask questions of the plaintiff’s parents, siblings and other relatives, acquaintances, co-employees and employers, both past and current, who may have information relevant to his claims,” wrote Haws and Wieser.

Winona diocese in support

Not everyone in John Doe’s family is aware of his abuse, said Finnegan, who called the request a way to “intimidate” the man behind the lawsuit.

“There have been numerous dioceses where they’ve shown more respect for survivors,” said Finnegan.

Meanwhile, the Winona diocese, which is co-defendant in the lawsuit, filed a memorandum in support of the archdiocese Tuesday. It also sought to quash any deposition of Bishop Emeritus Robert Brom.

Brom was vicar general of the Winona diocese in the 1970s, when Adamson was moved from there to the archdiocese, said Finnegan. He later served as bishop of the Duluth diocese and the diocese of San Diego.

 

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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