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Jury awards more than $8 million in northern MN clergy sex abuse case

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Updated: 6:54 p.m. | 2:30 p.m.

A Ramsey County jury Wednesday awarded nearly $8.2 million to a survivor of clergy sex abuse in the first case to be decided by a jury under Minnesota's Child Victims Act. That law opened a three-year window to file claims for older incidents of abuse.

Explore the full investigation Clergy abuse, cover-up and crisis in the Twin Cities Catholic church

Doe 30, the 52-year-old plaintiff, alleged he had been sexually abused by the Rev. James Vincent Fitzgerald at St. Catherine's parish in Squaw Lake,  Minn., in the late 1970s. The case centered on whether the Diocese of Duluth was negligent in how it supervised Fitzgerald, who died in 2009. 

The jury found that the diocese was 60 percent at fault. Fitzgerald's order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, was found to be 40 percent at fault. That means the Duluth diocese will need to pay  nearly $5 million unless the verdict is overturned.

Susan Gaertner, attorney for the Diocese of Duluth, declined to say whether it will appeal.

Attorney Jeff Anderson said he was grateful on behalf of his client for the jury's decision.

"There is hope, there is now help, and there has been great healing," Anderson said. "And as hard as it was for him and his family, they all came together around this and are better off for it."

Anderson says he hopes the verdict  sends a strong message that survivors of abuse will hold church officials accountable. 

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused By Priests, called the ruling a "warning to bishops who pretend they're powerless over religious order clerics working in their dioceses."

Anderson has filed several other clergy sex abuse lawsuits against dioceses in Minnesota. Claims against the Twin Cities archdiocese are now part of a bankruptcy case and cannot go to trial individually.