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New Ulm Diocese under pressure to release names of abusing priests

  • Article by: Jean Hopfensperger
  • August 4, 2014 - 9:08 PM

A St. Paul attorney released the names of eight priests accused of sexual misconduct while serving in New Ulm, the only Catholic diocese in Minnesota that hasn’t released the names of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children.

The New Ulm Diocese, headed by St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt from 2001 to 2007, identified 12 priests accused of sexual misconduct with children in a 2004 report for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said attorney Jeff Anderson.

The eight priests were identified during a January deposition of the Rev. Francis Garvey, a former top New Ulm Diocese official, who testified in another abuse case, said Anderson. He did not know if they are the same priests on the dioceses’ list.

“Why we have to be the ones to ring this bell, to sound the alarm, is troubling … baffling and disturbing,” Anderson said at a news conference following a court hearing on a clergy abuse lawsuit.

The priests named served the diocese roughly during the 1960s to the 1980s. Six of the eight have been the subject of lawsuits now or in the past, said Mike Finnegan, an attorney working with Anderson. They are: Vincent Fitzgerald, Francis Markey, William Marks, David Roney, Michael Skoblik and Douglas Schleisman.

Priests John Gleason and John Murphy are also named in the deposition, said Finnegan. All but Schleisman are deceased, he said.

The diocese of New Ulm had no immediate comment on the release of names. It said it would issue a news release Tuesday.

Church asks to move case

The identification of the priests came after a hearing in Ramsey County District Court involving a lawsuit that has produced an unprecedented flood of documents and names about priest abusers in the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese and the Winona Diocese.

The lawsuit was filed by a man who said he was abused by former priest Tom Adamson during the 1970s at a St. Paul Park church, even after Adamson had been identified by the Winona Diocese as a child sex offender.

Monday’s hearing came, in part, in response to a motion filed by the Winona Diocese, which had asked the court to move the lawsuit’s trial from Ramsey County to a judicial district outside the metro area. It argued the publicity generated had influenced potential jurors, thereby denying them a fair trial.

Diocese attorney Thomas Braun cited a survey it commissioned of 300 Ramsey County residents, which indicated 81 percent were aware of the litigation, and 45 percent had concluded that the defendants were liable for sex abuse.

But Judge John Van de North denied the motion, saying the survey sample was too small to make sweeping conclusions.

He was confident an impartial jury could be selected.

Ramsey County “is the best forum given the large jury pool and the diversity of the jury pool,” he said.

Van de North, however, did not rule on a critical question before him, namely what should be the legal standards for releasing the names and files of priests accused of sexual misconduct with children.

Who should be named?

The roughly 40 names made public so far by the archdiocese have been principally those of priests identified in the 2004 U.S. Bishops Conference study, plus several others identified by the archdiocese independently. However the archdiocese has identified 103 priests “accused” of misconduct — not just “credibly accused” — so there are dozens more whose identities are at stake in future court rulings, Finnegan said.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis argued that only priests accused of criminal sexual misconduct should have their names and files made public, while attorneys for the alleged victim said the standard should be broader.

A special master judge appointed to handle certain aspects of the case, Judge John Schumacher, had recommended that Van de North adopt the archdiocese position.

Finnegan argued that the standard needed to be broader to taken into account the dangers posed by priests such as the Rev. Joseph Gallatin. Gallatin had admitted to touching a boy who was sleeping, rubbing his chest and abdomen, and admitted to being attracted to boys as young as 12 years old.

“This is information that parents and children in the archdiocese need to know,” Finnegan said.

But archdiocese attorney Tom Wieser argued that releasing the names of all priests accused of any kind of abuse could injure the reputation of those unjustly and falsely accused. While the plaintiffs portray it as a list of “bad guys,” “we have an equally long list of false and fabricated accusations,” he said.

“There is no reason their reputations should be sullied,” Wieser said.

 

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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