A landmark settlement last month in a clergy sex abuse lawsuit that set protocols for disclosure of claims hasn’t ended all the legal battles over the public release and publication of church information.
The settlement between Doe 1 and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona didn’t include other dioceses, which continue to face clergy sex abuse lawsuits in courtrooms across Minnesota.
On Wednesday, the Diocese of New Ulm, the Diocese of Duluth and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate asked Ramsey County District Judge John Guthmann to grant a protective order to keep some of an accused priest’s personal information from public view.
The defendants, who are named in a suit filed by Doe 30, a former altar boy, said they aren’t trying to keep Doe 30’s attorneys from obtaining the information; they said some sensitive information — medical and financial details, among others — should be kept from publication on the attorney’s website and from being disclosed to the media.
“There’s nothing they can’t do with the file for the purpose of this litigation,” said Andrew Shern, an attorney for the Oblates.
Doe 30 alleges that the Rev. James Vincent Fitzgerald sexually abused him in 1976 when he was 13. Doe 30 was an altar boy at St. Thomas More when he and his family met Fitzgerald. The priest, who is dead, was employed by the three defendants and allegedly abused the boy at St. Catherine’s Parish in the Diocese of Duluth.
After the hearing, attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents Doe 30 and who negotiated the landmark October settlement, said he was disappointed with the dioceses’ request.
“Our great hope is that defendants like those in court today … would choose to be a part of transparency and accountability instead of secrecy,” Anderson said, adding that he had hoped the Doe 1 settlement would serve as a model.
After the hearing, Susan Gaertner, who represents the Diocese of Duluth, said, “My client has been all about transparency.”
Shern, Gaertner and John Gunderson, who is representing the Diocese of New Ulm, noted that protective orders are commonplace.
Guthmann did not issue a decision Wednesday but told Anderson and his co-counsel, Elin Lindstrom, that he agreed with the defense attorneys about the ubiquity of protective orders.
A St. Louis County judge granted protective orders in two unrelated clergy sex abuse suits against the Diocese of Duluth.
Guthmann said he could count on “one hand” the number of times a protective order was challenged.
“They aren’t seeking to prevent you from getting a single sheet of paper,” the judge said.
Anderson and Lindstrom argued that a protective order would inhibit their efforts to share information publicly that could aid in the case and encourage witnesses and victims to come forward. Anderson’s office has been critical of the Diocese of New Ulm for refusing to release a list of credibly accused priests’ names and other documents.