Some church documents disclosed in a lawsuit alleging clergy sex abuse will remain confidential, a judge says.
The decision by Ramsey County District Judge John Guthmann, filed Friday, isn’t unusual in civil cases. But it illustrates the challenges to attorneys representing clients who allege they were abused by clergy.
Guthmann’s decision applies to a suit filed by “Doe 30” against the New Ulm and Duluth dioceses and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate religious order.
Doe 30, a former altar boy, alleges that the Rev. James Vincent Fitzgerald sexually abused him in 1976 when he was 13. Fitzgerald, who is dead, was employed by the three defendants named in the suit.
“While this case is in litigation, the substantial interests of the parties must be balanced against and placed in context with the interests of the general public,” Guthmann wrote in his decision. “The court also has an obligation to limit or prevent case-specific pretrial publicity that serves no purpose other than to influence potential jurors.”
Attorneys representing the Oblates and the two dioceses argued at a hearing earlier this month that Doe 30’s attorneys shouldn’t be allowed to publish key church documents or provide them to the media.
A landmark settlement reached in October between attorneys for a victim suing the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona outlined protocols for the public disclosure of alleged abuse and church documents, but it doesn’t have broad application.
Doe 30’s attorney, Jeff Anderson, who negotiated the October settlement, argued that the public disclosure of church documents is key to encouraging witnesses and victims to come forward.
Guthmann disagreed with Anderson, noting that the public interest was narrow because the suit involved allegations against one priest. Moreover, he said, Fitzgerald’s alleged sexual misconduct has been known for years.
“For this reason, there have been plenty of opportunities for witnesses and their victims to come forward,” the judge wrote.
Information that will be kept confidential include the names of alleged victims, medical and psychological information, personal financial information, “priest files” and portions of depositions deemed confidential. But confidential documents could be made public after the case is resolved, the judge wrote.
The case is scheduled to go to trial next October.