Attorneys representing a man who successfully sued the Diocese of Duluth for sexual abuse released documents Monday showing that diocesan officials were aware of predatory priests long before their client was molested.
One of the attorneys, Mike Finnegan, said he hoped that publicizing the documents would pressure the diocese to release more files and encourage survivors to take legal action. "These documents — seeing how dangerous these four individuals are — make us believe there are a lot of people in the Diocese of Duluth and across the state who were abused by these predators," Finnegan said.
The documents on the four priests were first handed over by the diocese to plaintiffs' attorneys Finnegan, Jeff Anderson and Elin Lindstrom in their representation of the man, called Doe 30.
A diocesan spokesman did not return a message seeking comment.
The documents, first revealed at trial in late October in Ramsey County District Court, identify the priests as the Revs. Bernard Bissonnette, Charles Gormly, Alfred Longley and (Thomas) Gregory Manning. All are deceased.
Doe 30, who is now 52, filed suit against the diocese, alleging that it failed to supervise the Rev. James Vincent Fitzgerald and protect him from the priest.
Fitzgerald, who is deceased, assaulted Doe 30, then 15, in 1978. Fitzgerald was a priest with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate religious order but worked in a Diocese of Duluth parish at the time.
The documents, dated between 1957 and 1972, were presented at trial by Doe 30's attorneys as evidence that the diocese was aware of predatory priests, took them in and had reason to be concerned.
"What these documents show is what the bishops knew, and what the bishops were doing — and this is the part they fought tooth and nail" in Doe 30's case, Finnegan said.
Susan Gaertner, the diocese's attorney, argued at Doe 30's trial that the diocese was not responsible for Fitzgerald's actions because he belonged to a religious order rather than diocesan ranks and that knowledge of his past was not shared with the diocese.
The diocese did not contest the abuse claims, but Gaertner challenged the assertion that the diocese should have been aware of Fitzgerald's previous conduct and that his predatory behavior was foreseeable.
A jury found the diocese 60 percent and the Oblates 40 percent responsible for Doe 30's abuse, awarding him $8.1 million in damages.
Finnegan said the four priest files are the first the diocese has released. He called Monday for Bishop Paul Sirba to release the files for all 31 credibly accused priests listed on the diocese's website.
Monday's files span the tenures of three Duluth bishops — Thomas Welch, Francis Schenk and Paul Anderson.
"I do hate to abandon a priest if in any way I can do something for him where there is even a remote hope of a release from some inner drives that impel him to those actions," Schenk wrote in 1961 about Gormly, who was accused of molesting girls.
In 1965, Schenk appointed Bissonnette as assistant pastor in Nashwauk, Minn. The diocese soon documented several problems with him, including that he "talks on sex all the time." Another report said he was "all for one kid one week — another the next, etc."
Schenk wrote in 1966 that he gave priests who had received treatment for psychosexual problems "a chance to rehabilitate" in his diocese.
Reports from the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office in 1972 contained interviews with five boys under 17 who stayed at Longley's Brainerd home. They said that Longley had up to 20 "kids" living there and that he gave them wine, beer, liquor and unspecified pills. Some said Longley invited them to spoon him, grabbed their genitals and professed his love for them.