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Attorney: Archbishop John Nienstedt walked out of deposition before completed

Artwork by Martin Ontiveros for our March 19 cover story
Artwork by Martin Ontiveros for our March 19 cover story

The law firm of Jeff Anderson deposed Archbishop John Nienstedt on Wednesday, marking the first time the head holy man has been forced to answer questions about sexual abuse allegations during his six-year reign over the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Anderson's firm is tight-lipped about what was discussed during a four-hour window allotted by the court, but was bothered -- if not surprised -- by what it considers to be attempts by Nienstedt's attorneys to subvert the interrogation. Although his time had ended, Nienstedt apparently walked out of the room when pressed about whether he would turn over all the information he possessed on abusive priests to local cops and prosecutors.

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"We took the deposition," says Mike Finnegan, an attorney who questioned the archbishop alongside Anderson. "But we don't consider it complete."

Finnegan's beef is that Nienstedt's attorneys wasted an excessive amount of time on legal objections that slowed down the pace and shortened the overall number of questions. What's more, Finnegan says, the archdiocese failed to turn over a majority of its case files before the deposition, meaning he and Anderson couldn't ask about what they didn't know.

They plan to take their complaints to the same Ramsey County judge who, in February, ordered Nienstedt and former Vicar General Kevin McDonough to testify under oath. Wednesday's interrogation was in preparation for a September trial during which Anderson will assert that the archdiocese poses a "public nuisance" threat to the Twin Cities by routinely sheltering dangerous clerics and failing to warn parishioners.

Also part of the recent court order, the archdiocese has begun handing over thousands of pages worth of documents related to the internal investigations of accused priests. Although those files remain private, church officials highlighted some of the details Monday on its website.

The biggest revelation: a man who said he had been abused by Father Paul Palmitessa as a boy in 1982 killed his wife and committed suicide in 1999. The archdiocese claims it did not know of Palmitessa's alleged crime until 1990, two years after the priest had "changed his residence" and joined another diocese in California. He was quickly taken out of ministry the same year.

When asked about Nienstedt's supposed walk-out, Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the archdiocese, responded that he knew nothing about it. A statement released later in the day did not address the complaints of Anderson's firm, but summed up the archbishop's deposition in this way:

He expressed regret for mistakes that were made in the past with how the archdiocese responded to allegations of sexual abuse against clergy. He assumed responsibility for mistakes that have been made since he became archbishop of the archdiocese in 2008.

McDonough, who investigated sexual abuse allegations as far back as the 1980s, is scheduled to be deposed on April 16. The transcripts and video of Nienstedt's deposition are being withheld at the moment.

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to jmarx@citypages.com


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