Order May Lead to the Disclosure of Additional Names of Perpetrators and the Release of Secret Abuse Documents
(St. Cloud, MN) – Stearns County District Court Judge Kris Davick-Halfen ruled that a clergy sexual abuse survivor’s public nuisance claim against the Diocese of St. Cloud can proceed. Judge Davick-Halfen’s June 22, 2015, order will help hold the Diocese of St. Cloud accountable for protecting pedophile priests in the past and will help keep children safe in the future. A similar decision in 2013 in Ramsey County allowed a public nuisance claim to proceed involving the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. This led to the disclosure and identification of dozens of perpetrators and for the first time, thousands of secret church documents were released.
In January 2015, Plaintiff Doe 50 filed suit against the Diocese of St. Cloud, claiming that he was sexually abused as a child by Father James Thoennes (pronounced “Tennis”), a priest at St. John’s Parish and School in Foley, Minn., in the early 1970s. St. John’s is in the Diocese of St. Cloud.
In 2014 the Diocese of St. Cloud released a list of 33 priests who worked in the Diocese who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. The Diocese has not released files or documents pertaining to those priests or their patterns of grooming and abuse. Such information is necessary to educate the public about the threat and keep the public safe.
“This ruling will allow us to bring this serious, ongoing problem in the Diocese of St. Cloud out into the light so that we can protect children in the future from going through the same harm that Doe 50 and many other kids like him had to endure as a result of the Diocese’s mishandling of abusive priests,” said Jeff Anderson, an attorney representing Doe 50.
In a deposition in another case in September 2014, Father Thoennes testified that years before Doe 50’s abuse he reported to Monsignor Bernard Wildenborg that he had sexually abused a young boy at St. Anthony of Padua in St. Cloud. Civil authorities and the public were not informed of the abuse and the Diocese allowed Thoennes to continue in public ministry until 1997. Thoennes currently lives alone in an apartment owned by the Diocese of St. Cloud and is free to go where he wants at will anywhere in the St. Cloud area.
“The fact that the Diocese knows what it does about Thoennes and yet allows him to move about the community freely raises concerns about what they know about other abusive priests and have not shared with the public,” said Mike Bryant, another attorney representing Doe 50. “Judge Davick-Halfen’s ruling will allow us to find out who the other perpetrators are, where they are, and how they operate.”