MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A Minnesota judge has ruled that a man who says he was sexually abused by a priest in the 1970s can move forward with his claim that church leaders created a “public nuisance” by failing to warn parishioners about the priest.
The case against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona is believed to be the first clerical sexual abuse case nationwide to use the public nuisance theory at trial, attorneys for the victim said Wednesday.
The public nuisance claim has already led to the unprecedented disclosure of tens of thousands of church documents and the names of dozens of accused priests, and the victim’s attorneys said Wednesday they will seek even more disclosures.
“Failing to disclose information about an accused priest is akin to, and conceivably more offensive and dangerous, than other acts that have been considered public nuisances,” Ramsey County Judge Van de North wrote, adding that acts such as swearing in public have been found to be public nuisances.
Lawyers for the church had argued the case should be dismissed, saying it doesn’t meet the legal criteria for a public nuisance, which Minnesota law defines as “unreasonable interference with a right common to the general public.”
Tom Wieser, an attorney for the archdiocese, said Wednesday that the ruling shows the judge believes there is enough information under the law to allow the claim to move forward.
The Diocese of Winona released a statement saying that it will vigorously defend against that claim.
Jeff Anderson, an attorney for the victim, called the ruling a breakthrough in child protection efforts.
This lawsuit was filed in May 2013 under a law that opened up a three-year window for victims of past sexual abuse to file claims that were otherwise barred under the statute of limitations. The plaintiff, identified in court documents as Doe 1, claims he was abused by Thomas Adamson in 1976 and 1977, when the victim was an altar boy at St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park.
The complaint alleges the archdiocese and diocese were negligent in allowing Adamson continued access to children, even though leaders knew he had behaved inappropriately with young boys.
Adamson said in a May deposition that he molested around 12 teens between the 1960s to the mid-1980s. He was removed from active ministry in 1985 and defrocked in 2009. He was never criminally charged.
In a separate ruling in the case, Van de North also modified the standards under which allegations of abuse would be disclosed.
Van de North said it’s up to the party that wants to keep an allegation private to show there is reason to do so, and then a court appointee would weigh the credibility of the allegation and make a decision. Van de North also said the threat of sexual abuse, in addition to abuse itself, could meet the standard for disclosure.
Attorney Mike Finnegan said Wednesday that the plaintiff will try to get the names of even more accused priests unsealed.
The case is scheduled for trial Nov. 3.
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