Judge orders St. Paul archdiocese, Winona diocese, to release lists of accused priests

Judge orders release of names by Dec. 17 of 46 accused of abusing minors in St. Paul archdiocese and Winona diocese.

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The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona must release the names of 46 priests accused of sexually abusing minors, a Ramsey County district judge ruled Monday.

Judge John Van de North ordered that by Dec. 17 the church must provide not just the names of the priests but their year of birth, year of ordination, the parishes they served, their current ministerial status, current residence and whether they are alive.

The Twin Cities archdiocese has held secret the names of 33 credibly accused abusers since it compiled the list in 2004 and won a 2009 ruling allowing the list to remain private. Church officials returned to court Monday seeking permission to disclose the names, following a wave of new clergy sex abuse allegations that have led to the abrupt departures of several top leaders in the local church.

The archdiocese said Monday it welcomed the ruling and pledged to release the list Thursday on its website and in the Catholic Spirit newspaper.

“The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is grateful for the approval of Ramsey County court to release information relating to priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors in our archdiocese,” the archdiocese said in a statement issued Monday night.

The Winona diocese, which had 13 priests on its list, has not offered a timeline for its release.

Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney specializing in clergy sex abuse cases who has been trying to get the lists released, also welcomed Monday’s ruling.

“We are greatly relieved that finally there will be disclosure so children will be protected from further harm and those who have been hurt can come forward,” Anderson said.

Archbishop John Nienstedt has appointed a task force to review the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations and hired a consultant to review clergy files. Last month, he pledged to make public a partial list of the credibly accused priests.

“The archbishop believes the whole list issue is becoming a distraction,” archdiocese attorney Thomas Wieser told the judge. “The archbishop wants the healing to begin.”

This fall’s allegations have reverberated through the local church and toppled Nienstedt’s vicar general, the Rev. Peter Laird, prompted abrupt resignations from the University of St. Thomas board by former Archbishop Harry Flynn and his former top deputy, the Rev. Kevin McDonough, and forced the removal of two priests from area churches.

In his ruling, Van de North also ordered the release of the names of priests added to the list since the original list was compiled. That list must be filed with the court by Jan. 6, 2014. Another 13 clergy on a similar list compiled by the Winona diocese also must be released.

Church offers to name 29

In court, Wieser offered to provide the information for 29 of the 33 priests on its list, which was compiled a decade ago in response to a new child protection charter created by U.S. bishops. It includes the names of credibly accused clergy from 1950 to 2002.

Wieser said the shorter list could be made public as early as Thursday.

But the judge ordered that information for all 33 priests on the list be filed with the court. If not provided, a detailed explanation must be presented, he said.

Bob Schwiderski, director of the Minnesota chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), called the ruling “huge.” It comes on the heels of a change in Minnesota law that gives abuse victims a three-year window to file lawsuits claiming past abuse, removing the statute of limitations that blocked many cases.

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