Court to take up fate of list naming priests accused of abuse

The Twin Cities Archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona seek an order to keep St. Paul lawyer Jeff Anderson from sharing the list. “I think there’s a moral and legal imperative” to name, he said.

At a court hearing today in St. Paul, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona will try to block the public release of a list of priests accused of sexual abuse.

A Ramsey County district judge ordered two months ago that the archdiocese hand over the list to St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who has filed many cases involving sexual abuse by priests. Anderson is representing a Twin Cities man, identified only as John Doe 76C, who alleged that he was sexually abused by former Catholic priest Thomas Adamson between 1980 and 1982 while Adamson was serving at Risen Savior Parish in Apple Valley. Anderson was planning to use the list of names when the case goes to trial in early June.

“They’ve brought a motion to keep it secret,” Anderson said. “It’s their effort to keep the crimes secret.”

The archdiocese did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Anderson said that he told the archdiocese and diocese that he was planning to go public with the list of names when he received it about a month ago and that they responded by seeking a court order to block Anderson from releasing it.

The archdiocese’s list compiles claims of abuse it deems credible and the names of accused priests and church officials who might have relocated the priests, Anderson said.

“When I get this data, I release it publicly,” Anderson said. “I think there’s a moral and legal imperative to release it.”

Years of information

He requested the list after Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin ruled in January 2008 that the plaintiff could seek punitive damages in his lawsuit against the archdiocese and diocese. Anderson had argued in his motion to request punitive damages that church officials knew Adamson molested children as far back as 1963 but continued to place him in parishes with access to children.

“Having this information and keeping it undercover all these years is why this motion and effort is so important,” Anderson said. “[The list] implicates the church officials, and that’s why they’re so insistent on keeping it secret.”

Bob Schwiderski, Minnesota director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said he plans to be in the courtroom today in front of Judge Gregg Johnson to hear the decision about the list.

Archdiocese and diocese officials “say they’re going to do everything they can, then why don’t they release names and assignments?” he said. “The safety of children should trump the privacy of a proven criminal.”

Schwiderski said it’s important that the list be released because it sheds light on those in the church who committed or overlooked sexual abuse.

“It shows you which [church leaders] were the ones that dropped these child hunters on unsuspecting families,” he said.

Legal considerations

Last month, a federal Appeals Court ruled that the Vatican can be sued for sexual abuse if it approved reassignments for priests who were accused of abuse in other parishes. The ruling upheld a decision made by a Portland, Ore., trial court in response to a lawsuit Anderson filed in the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That ruling applies only in the jurisdiction of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court, which includes the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii, but Anderson said the case has a good chance of going to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could ultimately affect every state.

During Pope Benedict’s first trip to the United States as pontiff in April, he said he was “deeply ashamed” of the sexual abuse scandal and vowed to take greater efforts to prevent pedophiles from serving in the priesthood.

“I am deeply ashamed, and we will do what is possible so this cannot happen again in the future,” he said.

After Benedict’s visit, Schwiderski said he would like to see the pope work on dealing with past abuse as well as preventing new cases of abuse.

“If the pope says do everything they can, then warn the neighborhood, warn the churches,” Schwiderski said.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report. Lora Pabst ? 612-673-4628