Diocese of St. Cloud’s Secrecy Practices Cracked By Two Stearns County Judges
Judge Frederick Grunke Gives Green Light to Survivor’s Public Nuisance Action Against the Diocese of St. Cloud
(St. Cloud, MN) – Judge Frederick Grunke’s order, issued April 1, 2016, says that the Diocese of St. Cloud’s long-standing practices of concealment and protection of sexual abusers created a dangerous condition that threatens public safety. Judge Grunke wrote in his order that the “harboring and concealment of multiple serial child-molesters at large in the community is hardly a lesser threat to public safety [than harboring a dangerous dog.]” Sexual abuse survivor, Doe 65, who filed her lawsuit in August 2015, was sexually abused by Father Donald Rieder in the late 1960s when she was 14 years old. This is the second time a public nuisance claim has been allowed to move forward against the Diocese in less than a year. Judge Grunke also allowed Doe 65’s negligence claims to move forward.
A second judge, Judge Kris Davick-Halfen, days earlier ordered the Diocese of St. Cloud to turn over the files of any priests of the Diocese who have been accused of sexual abuse of children. Judge Davick-Halfen’s order follows her decision last summer to allow another survivor, Doe 50’s public nuisance claims to go forward. Doe 50 filed his lawsuit in January 2015. Doe 50 was sexually abused by Father James Thoennes in the early 1970s when he was 11 years old. Thoennes is currently retired and living alone in an apartment in St. Cloud. Judge Davick-Halfen gave the Diocese until April 25th to provide the files to Doe 50’s attorneys, Jeff Anderson and Mike Bryant. Doe 50 v. Diocese of St. Cloud, 73-CV-15-276.
In January 2014 the Diocese of St. Cloud released a list of 33 priests who were credibly accused of sexually abusing children. Since then, the Diocese has continued to add names to its list of credibly accused priests. Doe 65 v. Diocese of St. Cloud, 73-CV-15-7611.
“These two decisions are a one-two punch to the long-standing practices of concealment and deceit by the Diocese of St. Cloud,” said Attorney Jeff Anderson. “For too long, Bishop Kettler and his predecessors have been deceiving the people into believing they were doing the right thing and being transparent when they have been nothing but secretive. Survivors will continue to fight to force transparency and accountability, to not only release offenders’ files but to also reveal the long-standing patterns and practices. We applaud the Judges in Stearns County for the wisdom of these orders and the courageous survivors on whose shoulders we stand in the pursuit of truth, accountability and transparency in the Diocese of St. Cloud.”
Doe 65 and Doe 50’s lawsuits were made possible under the Minnesota Child Victims Act which allows survivors of sexual abuse to file a legal claim against their abusers and the institution that may have protected the abusers. Sexual abuse survivors in the Diocese of St. Cloud, and throughout Minnesota, have until May 25, 2016, to bring a legal claim.