Archdiocese delays release of abusive priests list

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said in a statement late Friday that it's postponing until at least next month the release of names of priests who sexually abused children.

Earlier this month, Archbishop John Nienstedt announced his decision to release the names of priests living in the archdiocese whom the church believes sexually abused children. Nienstedt's announcement came after MPR News reporting showed church leaders protected an admitted abuser, the Rev. Clarence Vavra, and did not report the abuse to police.

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Church leaders have fought efforts for years by victims and their attorneys to make the names of abusive priests public. They've argued that some priests have been falsely accused and releasing their names would damage their reputations.

The archdiocese said it needs to wait until after a Dec. 2 hearing in Ramsey County District Court because it does not believe it can release the names without a judge's order.

The apparent reversal of the church's decision has raised legal questions. A Ramsey County judge in 2009 ordered the archdiocese to turn over the names of 33 credibly accused priests to victims' attorneys in a clergy sex abuse lawsuit on the condition that they be kept private.

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Nienstedt has said that he will need a judge's permission to release the list of abusive priests. Victims' attorneys Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan have said Nienstedt could release his own list without a judge's order.

Anderson and Finnegan have been fighting for the release of the list in an ongoing case in Ramsey County that's before Judge John Van de North, Jr. In an order dated Nov. 18, Judge Van de North called for a new hearing to address Nienstedt's recent statement about releasing the names on the list.

"First, the archbishop's letter is unclear as to the proposed conditions regarding the release of credibly accused priest information... In addition, to the extent it is required (something not entirely clear to the Court), 'permission of the relevant court' may be obtainable from this Court, or from the Honorable Gregg Johnson who previously sealed information produced in the John Doe 76C litigation."

Van de North was referring to the 2009 list of priest's names. The judge is scheduled to preside over the Dec. 2 hearing.