ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Two Roman Catholic dioceses in Minnesota have about two weeks to disclose the names of 46 priests deemed to have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors, a judge ruled Monday, or they must file detailed explanations showing why they are keeping the names private.
Ramsey County District Court Judge John Van de North, Jr. gave a deadline of Dec. 17 for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to disclose its list of 33 credibly accused priests and the Diocese of Winona to disclose its list of 13 priests.
The lists were compiled in 2004 as part of a nationwide study to determine the scope of clergy sex abuse. Across the country, roughly two dozen archdioceses and dioceses have already made such lists public.
Van de North said his ruling will put this “lightning rod” issue into perspective. It also allows both dioceses to make exceptions, but requires more detail than the dioceses have provided in the past.
“We’re going to get justice for everybody,” Van de North said.
Van de North said the two dioceses must release the priests’ names; birth year and age; year of ordination; whether they’re alive or dead and the year of death; the parishes they served; their current status; and the city and state where they live.
They have until Jan. 6 to file the same information for priests accused of sexual abuse of minors since these lists were compiled.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said it plans to release the names of priests on Thursday on a new page of the archdiocese’s website and in its newspaper, The Catholic Spirit. The archdiocese noted that most of the men whose names will be released have been previously identified in media reports.
“These disclosures are not intended to be final. A comprehensive review of clergy files is ongoing presently and the list will be updated regularly as additional announcements are made in the future,” the archdiocese said in a statement Monday.
Attorneys for victims of clergy sexual abuse sought for years to make the lists public, arguing it’s in the interest of public safety. Attorney Jeff Anderson said there is a “fierce urgency” in knowing who abusers are, where they worked and where they live.
“Today marks the beginning of a safer time in this community,” Anderson said after the ruling.
Church leaders have previously balked at releasing the lists, saying it could harm reputations of innocent priests. They argued the term “credibly accused,” coined by the 2004 study, has a low threshold and meant that any report of abuse that was “not implausible” was included.
Before Van de North issued his order, an attorney for the archdiocese said Archbishop John Nienstedt was prepared to name 30 priests accused of sexually abusing minors. The names include 29 priests on the 2004 list, plus one against whom a substantiated claim was leveled later.
“The archbishop has determined he wants the healing to begin,” archdiocese attorney Tom Wieser said.
Of the remaining four on the 2004 list, Wieser said one was a member of a religious order and there’s no information showing he served in the archdiocese. The other three are priests for whom the archdiocese says the allegations can’t be substantiated.
Former Hennepin County Attorney Tom Johnson was reviewing those files to see if they should be disclosed, Wieser said. He also noted that nine priests on the list are dead, and all had been removed from ministry by 2005 at the latest.
It’s not immediately clear how many new names will be disclosed. At least 20 names on the archdiocese’s list have already been public. It’s believed one priest’s name overlaps both lists.
Van de North said that while Johnson is well-respected, the fact that the archdiocese hired him raises transparency issues, and reviews must be done by a neutral party. He also noted that since 2004, the archdiocese has determined on its own whether abuse claims were “substantiated.”
“I think the archdiocese and the archbishop are making strides, and it certainly seems to be moving in the right direction,” Van de North said. “They need a little push from the court.”
Thomas Braun, attorney for the Winona diocese, objected to disclosing the 13 names, citing the low threshold used in compiling the list.
Other Minnesota dioceses have similar lists of accused priests. Anderson’s firm is also seeking disclosure of those names.