St. Paul attorneys Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan are announcing Tuesday a new lawsuit naming the Rev. Robert M. Thurner and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as defendants. It contains allegations of sexual abuse of a young girl at St. Joseph’s parish in West St. Paul decades ago. The priest in that case was given continued access to children even after he admitted to then-Archbishop John Roach that he had sexually abused a 16-year-old boy, Anderson’s law firm said in a news release. Details will be released Tuesday afternoon.
Also, a task force appointed to conduct an independent examination of clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will have to go through a top archdiocese official for access to internal files, according to a letter distributed to priests last week.
The Rev. Reginald Whitt, who was assigned this month to appoint the panel and receive its reports, told priests and deacons in a letter dated Oct. 21 that the task force may review specific files to determine whether the policies of the archdiocese concerning clergy sexual misconduct were properly followed. But, he wrote, “Access to these files will be within my control, and limited only to what is necessary for the task force.”
He also wrote that he recognized that many priests and deacons “may be anxious about your right to privacy and a good reputation.” He assured them that the archdiocese will proceed according to the principles of due process and uniform application of canon policy.
Whitt’s letter seemed to mark a sharp contrast to a statement issued on Oct. 6, when the task force was announced and the archdiocese said, “The task force will have full authority and all the resources needed to complete its work.” That statement also said the task force would operate “independently” of Whitt and Archbishop John Nienstedt, who appointed Whitt.
Whitt’s letter sparked criticism of the archdiocese.
“It neuters the task force and doesn’t give members access to enough information or authority to look at the full spectrum of the problem,” said Patrick Wall, a former monk who is a consultant on legal cases against priests accused of child sexual abuse. “With these kinds of constraints, I believe the task force is being used by the archbishop to deflect the truth, not find it.”
Wall said the task force appointed by Whitt is the fourth review board on the issue of sexual misconduct by priests to be formed by the archdiocese since 1986.
Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the archdiocese, did not respond directly. He said late Monday that the task force appointed by Whitt will focus on policies, procedures and practices, as previously stated.
Individual clergy files will be examined separately — for evidence of misconduct — by a firm that has not yet been hired, Accurso said, adding that the name of the firm will be revealed when it is chosen
Whitt, a Dominican priest and a professor at the University of St. Thomas, was appointed to the new role of episcopal vicar for ministerial standards in response to news stories about possible coverups by the archdiocese in three recent cases.
One case involves a priest convicted of child sexual abuse, another involves a priest recently sued for child sexual abuse and a third case involves a priest who allegedly downloaded pornography. St. Paul police are investigating the latter allegation for possible possession of child pornography.
On Wednesday, Nienstedt is scheduled to meet with priests in the archdiocese for a Clergy Study Day that will include a special session on the controversy.
Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213