Demands grow to see secret list of Minnesota priests accused of abuse

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(StarTribune.com)  Sometimes lists are posted online and then disappear. Such was the case with St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville. In the spring of 2011, the abbey became the first religious order in Minnesota to publicly release a list of monks who were credibly accused of sexual abuse. Digital publication of the list was part of a settlement of clergy abuse lawsuits. But the list disappeared from the abbey’s website in the summer of 2012…

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Demands grow to see secret list of Minnesota priests accused of abuse

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, already under fire for its handling of two cases involving sexual misconduct by priests, is now fighting a battle on a second front, with heightened demands that it release a list held in secret since 2004 of alleged clergy sex offenders.

A court hearing on that issue in Ramsey County was the venue where allegations of a child pornography coverup first surfaced last week.

At a hearing in Crookston, Minn., on Wednesday, attorneys for an abuse victim asked a judge to compel the local diocese to release its list. Hearings in New Ulm, Duluth and Winona are next.

Release of the full tally, which might run to dozens of priests facing credible allegations of abuse, could ignite an entirely new round of accusations and lawsuits at a time when many in the Catholic Church thought the worst of the clergy sex abuse tragedy was behind it.

A total of six court hearings, ­involving every diocese in ­Minnesota, are slated for this fall, with additional actions targeting about a dozen Catholic religious orders in Minnesota, said St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who is leading the effort.

“Every single bishop in Minnesota has kept that list secret,” said Anderson.

For years, Anderson has asked for its release as part of his litigation on behalf of abuse victims. In the past, the courts have ruled against the requests because Minnesota’s statute of limitations gave child sexual abuse victims until age 24 to take legal action. Church leaders have resisted releasing the list on the grounds that it could include clergy falsely accused.

But a state law that took effect in May gave victims older than 24 a three-year window to sue for past abuse. Anyone younger than 24 has unlimited time.

The new law could provide a key to opening the vaults, Anderson said. “Because of the change in law, there’s a change in our ability to start the process of forcing disclosure of these secrets,” he said.

Patrick Wall, a former priest and a victims advocate at Anderson’s office, said release of the list would clarify the scope of abuse in Minnesota.

“What you will find, more likely than not, are credibly accused child molesters in the ministry, several hundred [abuse] victims in archdiocese files and a much larger financial scandal involved in protecting priests,” Wall said.

List announced in 2004

U.S. bishops commissioned a national inventory of alleged clergy abuse cases not long after scandals erupted in Boston in 2002. Dioceses were asked to review their records over the past 50 years and submit data for the study, which was released in 2004.

About 25 of the 178 dioceses in the country have released the lists, nearly always as part of legal settlements, ­according to Terry McKiernan, president of Bishop Accountability, a Massachusetts-based group that tracks clergy abuse.

The lists have been updated by dioceses over the years, McKiernan said.

About 33 clergy members in the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese were on the 2004 version of the list, Anderson said. Another 13 were in the Winona Diocese; five in Crookston, 17 in Duluth and 12 in New Ulm, he said.

It’s unknown how many priests are on the list now.

The current move to dislodge the lists statewide is unusual, said Dave Clohessy, executive director of the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who traveled to Minnesota this week to learn more.

“I don’t know of any other state where every diocese is being asked,” Clohessy said. “It’s happening more aggressively here.”

Crookston case

The Crookson Diocese hearing on Wednesday involved one of the abuse victims of a now-deceased priest, James Porter, who was convicted on multiple counts of child abuse. The victim, identified in court documents as Jane Doe 4, was abused as a teenager. Now that Anderson is able to reopen her case, he requested that the diocese open its list of accused sexual offenders.

“Under the new law, she can do something to protect other kids,” Anderson said. “That’s what she’s doing.”

He said he has used the strategy successfully in dioceses in Delaware, Chicago, Portland, Ore., Davenport, Iowa, and California.

“We argued there is an immediate peril every day that the bishop and diocese conceal from the public the names of those deemed to be credibly accused sexual offenders,” Anderson said. “As long as we don’t know who they are, we don’t know how to protect the ­children.”

Polk County District Judge Tamara Yon has taken the case under advisement.

Lists differ

The Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., was first to release its list of alleged sex abusers, in 2002, McKiernan said. Over the years, dioceses in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee and beyond have done the same.

But the lists differ, typically in reaction to court settlements, he said. The Los Angeles list includes a summary of allegations against each priest. Baltimore’s list includes photographs. The Davenport Diocese is required to include a link on its home page to the list. In Iowa, Dubuque and Davenport are required to update and maintain their lists as new clergy members are added.

Sometimes lists are posted online and then disappear.

Such was the case with St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville. In the spring of 2011, the abbey became the first religious order in Minnesota to publicly release a list of monks who were credibly accused of sexual abuse. Digital publication of the list was part of a settlement of clergy abuse lawsuits. But the list disappeared from the abbey’s website in the summer of 2012, said Pat Marker, an advocate for victims who chronicles clergy sexual abuse at St. John’s.

Brother Aelred Senna, a spokesman for the abbey, did not return phone calls Wednesday asking for an explanation. Its publication had been hailed as a move toward openness after decades of sexual abuse of prep-school students and others by priests and monks of the abbey.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has argued that publicizing the list could tarnish the reputation of innocent priests. Advocates for the abused disagree.

”It’s hard to repair an injured reputation,” Clohessy said. “It’s infinitely harder to repair a boy or girl’s shattered psyche.”

Read entire article and comments… Here

Demands grow to see secret list of Minnesota priests accused of abuse
Jean Hopfensperger
Star Tribune
October 9, 2013

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Topics: Aelred Senna, David Clohessy, James Porter, Jeff Anderson, Pat Marker, Patrick Wall, Terence McKiernan

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