A Ramsey County judge has ordered the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona to turn over thousands of pages of documents on priests accused of sexually abusing children since 1970.
Ramsey County Judge John Van de North ordered church leaders to provide the documents by March 31 to attorneys for a man who said he was abused as a child by the Rev. Thomas Adamson in the mid-1970s. The deadline is two days before his attorneys will question Archbishop John Nienstedt under oath about his handling of abuse claims. Most of the documents will not be sealed.
Attorney Jeff Anderson had sought the records to look for evidence that church leaders may have engaged in a pattern of behavior that put children at risk.
None of the documents will be immediately filed with the court because they are part of discovery. If the case continues to trial, lawyers could seek to have the documents entered as exhibits.
Church lawyers had argued that the request for documents violated constitutional provisions protecting religious organizations from government intrusion. Van de North rejected that argument again in his order Tuesday.
"To date, the Court has seen no compelling demonstration based in fact or heard persuasive legal argument that discovery of Defendants' handling, including the mandatory reporting, of accusations of sexual abuse of children by clergy is not capable of investigation and resolution using neutral principles of law," he wrote.
Anderson said he will review the documents to prepare for the depositions of Nienstedt and former top deputy Kevin McDonough and has no immediate plans to release them to the public.
"Our focus will be on assimilating the information that has been turned over to us...," he said. "I'm not going to just get this stuff and turn it out."
The archdiocese released a statement today saying it looks forward to working with the court and the attorneys. A spokesman for the Diocese of Winona declined to comment.
Van de North rejected requests by church lawyers to seal all of the documents. But he granted one exception. If church leaders don't consider an allegation to be credible, they can ask for those documents to be placed under seal, the judge ruled.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 27 and is expected to address whether the depositions of Nienstedt and McDonough should be sealed. Those depositions are scheduled for April 2 and 16.