Judge: Nuisance claim against Diocese of St. Cloud can proceed

A ruling by a Stearns County judge could lead to the release of extensive files on sexual abuse by priests in the Diocese of St. Cloud.

District Court Judge Kris Davick-Halfen said a public nuisance lawsuit against the diocese may proceed. The unnamed plaintiff in the case claims that the Rev. James Thoennes sexually abused him in the early 1970s at a Catholic school in Foley, Minn.

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Jeff Anderson, an attorney who represents victims of sexual abuse by priests, said the ruling will allow him to take depositions of top diocese officials about how they handled abuse cases.

"Given the magnitude and the importance of this effort and this ruling, we are going to move this forward aggressively," Anderson said.

A similar decision in 2013 led to the release of thousands of clergy files by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Frank Meuers, a Minnesota leader of Survivors of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement that the nuisance suits make the state a leader in a growing movement to expose those who commit crimes against children.

"In no other state have child sex abuse victims been as successful at disgorging secrets from corrupt institutions through the creative and aggressive use of this novel legal strategy," Meuers said.

The diocese declined to comment.