A priest’s right to privacy vs. the public’s right to know about sexual misconduct claims was the subject of a court hearing Thursday pitting the Twin Cities archdiocese against attorneys for an alleged abuse victim.
Creating a “good cause standard” for releasing the names of priests accused of abuse was the first order of business before Special Master Judge Robert Schumacher, recently appointed to handle disputes over the release of documents and depositions in a lawsuit that has rocked the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The archdiocese argued that priests’ names should be made public only when there is a “preponderance of evidence” that the priest violated sexual misconduct laws, or that the accusation “was not false.”
“What we’re trying to do is balance the risk of harm to victims against the allegations of misconduct that have no foundation or are false,” said archdiocese attorney Tom Weiser.
But Jeff Anderson, the plaintiff’s attorney, argued that the names of all priests accused of criminal sexual misconduct, or suspected of criminal misconduct, should be public — unless the allegation is clearly false or fabricated.
“The safety of children must come first,” Anderson said.
Determining a legal standard for publicly identifying accused priests has taken on urgency because the court has ordered the archdiocese to send thousands of pages of documents related to clergy sexual misconduct to Anderson’s office. The names of priests in those documents are currently sealed. Anderson must make a “good cause” argument to the court over which names should be made public.
The lawsuit driving the document flood was filed last May on behalf of “John Doe 1,” a man who claimed he was abused by the Rev. Thomas Adamson even after the priest’s sexual misconduct was known to the church.
Thursday’s hearing was the first before Schumacher, a retired Minnesota Court of Appeals judge appointed by Ramsey County District Court Judge John Van de North to address disputes over the release of documents and depositions.
Schumacher also heard arguments on two other motions in the case. The archdiocese asked the court for permission to interview family members of John Doe 1, who said he was abused by Adamson in the 1970s at a church in St. Paul Park.
Archdiocese Attorney Daniel Haws said it was important to learn whether the problems Doe suffered in life were the result of the abuse, or whether other family members who haven’t suffered abuse “have similar issues.”
But John Doe 1 has never told anyone in his family about the abuse, said Anderson, and it could create deep fractures among siblings — which in turn could aggravate Doe’s problems.
“This would be a horror to inflict upon this family,” said Anderson, “and they might even blame themselves.”
The archdiocese also asked Schumacher to permit John Doe 1 to be evaluated by Dr. Harrison Pope, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School. Pope is known nationally for his challenges to the “repressed memory” syndrome, in which individuals repress painful memories until they are somehow triggered and recovered. Pope has testified in other clergy abuse lawsuits.
Schumacher said he did not expect to hand down decisions on the motions for several weeks. Under law, he has 20 days to make a decision on each motion.
The John Doe lawsuit is the first filed since the 2013 Minnesota Legislature created a three-year window for older cases of abuse to be heard by the courts.