Lawyers for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona are seeking to block the depositions of Archbishop John Nienstedt and two other priests and halt the ordered release of the names of priests accused of child sexual abuse since 2004.
In a memorandum filed in Ramsey County District Court late yesterday, the archdiocese argued that the disclosure of the names of the priests, even under court seal, would cause "irreparable harm to the Archdiocese and its clergy." It said it plans to appeal the judge's order.
Attorneys for the Diocese of Winona similarly argued that the disclosure of the names "would constitute irreparable and irreversible prejudice" and plans to appeal.
The filings signal a more aggressive legal approach by church officials. Attorneys from three law firms drafted the court filings, and they seek to block all of the judge's orders this week.
Ramsey County Judge John Van de North had ordered the depositions of Nienstedt, former top deputy Kevin McDonough and the Rev. John Brown, a priest accused of child sexual abuse, within 30 days, at a hearing on Tuesday. He also ordered church officials to turn over the names of priests accused since 2004 to the court under seal by Feb. 18, 2014. The orders were part of a case brought by a man who alleged he was sexually abused in 1976 and 1977 by the Rev. Thomas Adamson.
Van de North previously ordered the release of the names on an older list of priests deemed "credibly accused" of child sexual abuse by the archdiocese and the Winona diocese. His order for the post-2004 cases said that the names of all accused priests needed to be disclosed to the court, not just the names of the priests that church officials believe have been credibly accused.
Lawyers for the archdiocese called the ordered disclosures "highly questionable" in their memorandum filed yesterday and argued that the alleged abuse victim in the case should first be required to prove his claim that the church is creating a public nuisance by keeping the information private.
The archdiocese also argued in its memorandum that the judge's order "raises important issues as to whether the Court exceeded its authority by ordering depositions of clergy on matters pertaining to ecclesiastical decisions made under the Code of Canon Law in how the Archbishop chose to address child sexual abuse in 2002, and how such actions affected the Archdiocese civil corporation. These discovery issues, among others, impact the Archdiocese's constitutional due process, equal protection and free exercise rights of the United States Constitution."
Van de North rejected that argument at the hearing on Tuesday.
The archdiocese defended the decision to appeal the judge's order in a statement released today. It said the archdiocese will continue to work with a private firm to review its files and will disclose the names of any clergy with a "substantiated claim" of child sexual abuse.
"However, we must vigorously defend the rights of clergy members who have been the subject of false, frivolous or malicious claims against them," the statement said. "While we must place justice for victims of heinous crimes as our top priority, we must also defend those who have been unjustly accused."
An attorney for Brown, the accused priest, told MPR News on Wednesday that he wouldn't challenge the judge's order and would schedule the deposition of Brown as soon as possible. The request to halt that deposition came from the archdiocese.