Twin Cities Archdiocese releases details on two abusive priests

Archbishop to testify under oath Wednesday.

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Newly released church documents involving clergy working in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis describe one priest allegedly sexually abusing a brain-injured woman and another abusing a teenage boy who killed himself and his wife years later in a murder-suicide.

The new details were revealed in a statement by the archdiocese late Monday as part of a lawsuit that is also compelling Archbishop John Nienstedt to testify under oath Wednesday about decades’ worth of alleged abuse.

The archdiocese was ordered by a judge to disclose tens of thousands of pages of documents on about 40 priests who had been credibly accused of abusing children from 1970 to the present as part of a lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court. The documents, which were not made public, are designed to help attorneys prepare for a four-hour deposition of Nienstedt on Wednesday at an undisclosed St. Paul location and an April 16 deposition of former Vicar General Kevin McDonough.

“We’re still in the process of poring through these things,” said attorney Mike Finnegan, who is representing a victim — referred to as John Doe 1 — who has sued the archdiocese, the Diocese of Winona, and former priest Tom Adamson, who allegedly abused Finnegan’s client in the 1970s.

Among the documents released Monday to Finnegan and colleague Jeff Anderson were details about the Rev. Paul Palmitessa, who ministered in Minnesota for 26 years before relocating to San Diego in 1982, the same year the Goodhue County attorney’s office declined to charge him for allegedly making sexual advances toward a 15-year-old boy.

In 1999, the victim killed his wife and then himself, according to Monday’s statement issued by church spokesman Jim Accurso that outlined accusations against Palmitessa and three other priests.

A source with the Goodhue County attorney’s office confirmed Tuesday that the office is reviewing possible criminal charges against Palmitessa but would not say whether it involves the 1982 case.

Goodhue County Sheriff’s Capt. Pat Thompson confirmed that his office opened an investigation when the archdiocese contacted his agency in February, but would not disclose details about who was being investigated.

“I will just say that there’s potentially more than one investigation at this point,” Thompson said. “We are in contact with our county attorney for guidance on how to proceed.”

Accurso’s statement said Palmitessa “may have abused others.”

Even though the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office investigated the claims in 1982 and forwarded them to the county attorney’s office, the church didn’t learn about them until 1990, when the victim informed church officials, according to Accurso’s statement.

It’s unclear why Goodhue County didn’t charge the case in 1982 and why the archdiocese apparently was unaware of it until the victim informed it. Accurso declined to address the issue Tuesday.

Palmitessa ministered until his retirement in 1998.

‘Allowed to continue in ministry’

Meanwhile, the Diocese of San Diego said Tuesday that Palmitessa underwent “a professional evaluation” and “several years of professional counseling” after the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis alerted it in 1990 to the Goodhue County case.

“He was allowed to continue in ministry upon the advice of several mental health professionals, with the restriction that he not be alone with boys or young men,” according to a statement from the San Diego diocese.

The statement said there were no allegations of misconduct made against Palmitessa in San Diego. He provided “limited Sunday supply ministry” until about five years ago, but “is now prohibited from any public ministry as a priest,” it said.

Monday’s revelations are just the start of a massive records dump the local church has been ordered to make to Finnegan and Anderson in coming weeks as part of the lawsuit involving John Doe 1. It’s unclear how much of that information will be publicly released, and both sides have fought bitterly in court about disclosing those records.

‘Ongoing disclosure’

Accurso said Tuesday that the church voluntarily released details about the priests Monday.

“We did so as part of our commitment to prudent and ongoing disclosure,” he said.

New details were also revealed about the Rev. Kenneth LaVan, along with previously reported abuse by the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer and the Rev. John Michael Stevens.

LaVan’s first alleged abuses were against two girls between 1958 and 1970, the statement said. The church settled lawsuits brought by the two victims in 1989 and 1992. The priest was required to “undergo treatment,’’ the statement said, and was returned to parish ministry at St. Joseph in Lino Lakes “with monitoring.’’ He later provided assistance at St. Olaf church in Minneapolis.

LaVan, who stopped serving as a priest last December, also has been accused of sexually abusing a woman who suffered from “mental illness and a brain injury,’’ the archdiocese said. She was one of multiple women who leveled accusations of abusive sexual behavior against the priest.

“The archdiocese deeply regrets the egregious acts of these men and the unimaginable harm suffered by victims, their families and their communities,’’ Monday’s statement said.

 

chao.xiong@startribune.com • 612-270-4708

tony.kennedy@startribune.com • 612-673-4213

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