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“I think this sets a precedent for other courts,” said Schwiderski. “We’ve got 106 credibly accused priests in dioceses of Minnesota. We’ve got 60 to go.”
Every diocese in Minnesota has a list of “credibly accused priests,” and Anderson’s firm has filed lawsuits in each one to pry open the lists. In one of those suits, filed by John Doe, Ramsey County Judge Gregg Johnson ruled that Anderson could not release the names on the list.
There are 26 names on the list in St. Cloud, 17 in Duluth, 12 in New Ulm and five in Crookston, said Mike Finnegan, an attorney at Anderson Advocates law firm.
The majority of dioceses have not made them public. Nationally, about 25 of the nation’s 178 dioceses have released the lists, nearly always as part of legal settlements, said Terry McKiernan, president of Bishop Accountability, a Massachusetts-based group that tracks clergy abuse.
The lists were compiled a decade ago, when U.S. bishops commissioned a national inventory of alleged clergy abuse cases not long after scandals erupted in Boston in 2002. Dioceses were asked to review records over 50 years and submit data for the study, which was released in 2004.
Many names already known
Many names on the list are already known to Minnesotans, said Van de North. Twenty of the 33 names are on Anderson’s website, he said, such as the Rev. Clarence Vavra, the Rev. John T. Brown and the Rev. Thomas Stitts, who has died.
The list mainly relates to reported abuse between the mid-1950s and 1980s, according to the archdiocese statement released Monday. All of the men who will be identified have been permanently removed from ministry.
As for the four priests whom the archdiocese did not want to identify, Wieser said that the archdiocese has hired former Hennepin County Attorney Tom Johnson to examine evidence against three of them, to make sure they were “substantially accused” of sexual abuse.
Anderson asked whether the archdiocese was creating a new standard for releasing priests’ names. Under the 2004 U.S. Bishop’s report, a priest who was “credibly accused” of sexual misconduct was to be included on the list. “Substantially accused” is “raising the bar,” Anderson charged.
As for the “list” of abusive priests from 2002 to today, Wieser said there is only one. That is the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, a St. Paul priest now serving prison time for sexually molesting two boys.
The archdiocese stated, however, that “the “disclosures are not intended to be final.” The list will be updated as additional information is acquired through the current clergy review files.
Making public the names of clergy abusers will help heal the wounds of survivors, who often have felt alone in their suffering, said Schwiderski.
“It might not open a floodgate of new victims, but it will open a floodgate of emotions,” said Schwiderski, who was abused by a priest as a boy.
Given the clergy sex abuse cases now on court dockets, making public the list of offending priests could provide information that would be “relevant at trials” for claims of negligent hiring and negligent retention, said Van de North.
“This provides a method, puts a time line on things, and moves things forward,” he said.
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511