Archdiocese must make priest abuse files public, judge rules

Judge tells the Twin Cities archdiocese to release all info about those credibly accused of sex abuse from 1970 to 1985.

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The Cathedral of St. Paul.

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The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis must reveal hundreds of pages of information on priests accused of sexually abusing children, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North rejected church efforts to keep most of the documents under court seal, ordering that all information on priests who were “credibly accused” of abuse between 1970 and 1985 be filed with the court by March 31.

Information on priests whom the church determined were not “credibly” accused will remain sealed, Van de North ruled.

“These are files on the histories of the priests, the abuse reports made, the information found … and what, when and how the archdiocese chose to react to these reports,” said Jeff Anderson, attorney for the John Doe 1, an alleged victim of priest abuse who filed the lawsuit that has forced the disclosures.

The archdiocese had argued that the court overstepped its authority when it ordered the release of all documents related to child sex offenders from 1970 to 1985, but it said after the ruling it would work to comply with the court order.

“The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis looks forward to working with the court, the opposing parties and the special master in complying with today’s ruling by Ramsey County District Court Judge John Van de North in the Doe 1 case,” said a statement released Tuesday evening.

The “special master” refers to Van de North’s decision to bring on a judge dedicated to overseeing the litigation. That judge has not yet been named.

Van de North’s order also applies to the Diocese of Winona, which is another defendant in the lawsuit.

The judge’s decision follows a similar ruling earlier this month, when he rejected the archdiocese’s bid to prevent Archbishop John Nienstedt from providing sworn testimony on child sex abuse practices in the church.

Nienstedt is scheduled to give that deposition on April 2.

In the Tuesday ruling, Van de North said the archdiocese’s attorneys had failed to offer constitutional grounds for sealing the files. It “has done little more than object … on grounds that they ‘seek discovery of matters or information concerning internal policies of the Roman Catholic Church that are protected by the United States and Minnesota Constitutions.’ ’’

But case law in Minnesota and elsewhere “does not protect religious institutions from complying with Rules of Discovery,’’ Van de North wrote. “Minnesota courts have held that religious institutions should not be afforded special protections in complying with neutral application of state law.’’

The battle over clergy abuse information is not over, however.

On March 27, the archdiocese will ask Van de North to seal the sworn depositions of Nienstedt and the Rev. Kevin McDonough, a former vicar general who for many years was the archdiocese’s point person on dealing with child sex abuse issues.

 

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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