Archbishop John Nienstedt compelled to testify about handling of sexual abuse claims

Archbishop John Nienstedt

Archbishop John Nienstedt

On Tuesday, a Ramsey County judge ordered Archbishop John Nienstedt and former Vicar General Kevin McDonough to testify under oath about how they handled allegations of sexual abuse by local priests.

In a rare move, Judge John Van de North also ruled that attorneys for an alleged victim, led by Jeff Anderson, could review previously unreleased internal documents from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis related to sexual abuse claims.

"It's a very important decision for the survivor and for the idea all survivors deserve justice," said Mike Finnegan, who works for Anderson's firm. Nienstedt and McDonough "are going to have to answer those tough questions that they've evaded for years."

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In court, archdiocesan attorney Daniel Haws argued that the allegations of the specific civil case in question -- involving the Rev. Thomas Adamson -- predate Nienstedt's role as archbishop and McDonough's role as vicar general by decades. Typically they wouldn't have to testify. But the judge sided with Anderson, finding that the archdiocese's handling of one case could reveal a pattern of abuse that extended to other cases.

Anderson went so far in court as to describe the archdiocese as a "public nuisance," which is a legal way of saying an entire community has suffered under the tyranny of the cloth, not just individuals.

However, the judge put limits the duration of the testimony. Nienstedt only has to submit to a half day under oath and McDonough one day. Anderson has 30 days to take depositions, but he can ask them questions about any sex abuse claim.

Meanwhile, the archdiocese has until February 18 to release the names of priests who've been accused of sexual abuse since 2004, though the new list will remain sealed for the time being. A previous list of priests was revealed in December but included only those men whom the archdiocese had deemed to be "credibly accused" before 2004.

All along, the archdiocese has tried to keep the names of accused priests private, asserting that the reputation of any innocent clergymen could be at stake. Following Tuesday's ruling, church officials reiterated their previous position in a statement that also said:

The archdiocese looks forward to working with the Court and all affected parties to promote the protection of children, the healing of victims and the restoration of trust of the faithful and our clergy who are serving our communities nobly and with honor.

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to [email protected]