Judge: Jury should decide priest abuse lawsuit

Published 9:42 am Tuesday, July 22, 2014

ST. PAUL — A man who says he was sexually abused by a priest around 1976 deserves his day in court, a judge decided Monday in a case that has forced top local church officials including Archbishop John Nienstedt to give sworn testimony and disclose lists of priests accused of sexual misconduct.

The plaintiff, identified only as Doe 1, says he was a 14-year-old altar boy at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in St. Paul Park when Thomas Adamson molested him.

Lawyers from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona asked Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North to dismiss the lawsuit. They agreed that Adamson abused the plaintiff but argued that there weren’t sufficient legal grounds to present to a jury. But the judge said from the bench that he’ll let Doe 1 proceed with his negligence claims and decide later whether to allow him to assert a novel claim that the archdiocese created a “public nuisance” by failing to disclose its lists of accused priests.

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“Generally speaking, this case needs to be tried,” Van de North said. “Doe 1 deserves his day in court, at least on the negligence claims, and I’m going to take a closer look at nuisance.”

The case is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 22. Doe 1 is seeking unspecified financial damages on his negligence claims and the disclosure of more documents on the public nuisance claim.

Attorneys for the dioceses argued that no evidence has emerged in all the statements given by Nienstedt, other archbishops and ranking clerics, in church papers, or in testimony and documents from previous cases to show that since-deceased Archbishop John Roach or other officials learned from the Winona diocese that Adamson had a proclivity for boys before he transferred to the Twin Cities in 1975.