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Clergy abuse victims' lawyer calls for Pennsylvania-style grand jury report in Minnesota

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Attorney Jeff Anderson.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, who has sued several Catholic dioceses in Minnesota on behalf of victims of clergy sexual abuse, urges the state to convene a grand jury to investigate all dioceses in the state.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Updated: 7:12 p.m. | Posted: 6:21 p.m.

Jeff Anderson, who has sued the Catholic church multiple times over clergy sex abuse, is calling for a grand jury to investigate all of the dioceses in Minnesota. 

In Pennsylvania, a two-year investigation by a grand jury identified more than 300 priests credibly accused of abuse and found that there were more than 1,000 victims of priest abuse.

Anderson wants Gov. Mark Dayton to convene a grand jury to investigate, interview and possibly bring charges against priests who abused children or church leaders who helped to cover up those crimes or move known offenders to other churches or parishes. 

Attorney Jeff Anderson.
Attorney Jeff Anderson is urging the state to convene a grand jury to investigate all dioceses in the state.
Peter Cox | MPR News

In an emailed statement, Caroline Burns, press secretary for Gov. Mark Dayton wrote, "The Governor has not received such a request before. Therefore, his office is first researching for any precedents and then analyzing the statutory authority on this matter. We will respond as soon as those reviews are completed."

There is some disagreement about whether Minnesota law would permit the governor or any other official to take the step.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi told MPR News in 2013, and told the Star Tribune last week, that grand juries in Minnesota don't have the ability to issue a report without an indictment.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Lori Swanson's office sent a statement saying that a 1978 Minnesota Supreme Court decision prohibits reports that name people who are not indicted.

Because the statute of limitations has already passed on many abuse cases, it's possible any report from a grand jury would not be made public.

Anderson disagrees that state and county officials do not have the power to convene an investigating panel.

"The reality is, they can," he said. "And there's nothing keeping them from convening a grand jury in their county and their jurisdiction, and to issue a report if they choose. There's nothing in the law, as I have read it, that keeps them from making that information known by way of report, by complaint or by indictment."

Anderson's request comes after he successfully sued the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, securing a $210 million settlement for victims of clergy abuse. The archdiocese has also publicly identified credibly accused clergy abusers and released tens of thousands of pages in documents related to clergy abuse.

But, Anderson says that he believes there is more information out there that should be made public. He says some dioceses in the state, including Crookston and Duluth, have not been as forthcoming with information as others have. 

In a joint statement, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, Judge Tim O'Malley, director of ministerial standards and safe environment, and Tom Abood, chair of the Archdiocesan Financial Council and the Reorganization Task Force, said they were disappointed in Anderson's criticisms. 

"There has been disclosure by the Archdiocese at every stage of the bankruptcy process," the statement read. "In the past, Mr. Anderson claimed the Archdiocese was concealing assets. These claims were repeatedly rejected by the judge as false. For us, bankruptcy was the only fair way to distribute assets to all who have claims, and we are pleased that we could file a joint plan with Mr. Anderson, on behalf of his clients, to provide $210 million for an equitable distribution."

In a statement emailed Wednesday afternoon, the Diocese of Duluth said it is "committed to transparency and healing for the survivors of priest abuse. Files of all credibly accused priests have been made available to Mr. Anderson and counseling assistance has been offered to all victims who wish to avail themselves of such assistance.

"The Diocese has voluntarily published the names of all credibly accused priests, has investigated all claims of priest abuse, and has taken action to remove from active ministry all priests who have been found to be credibly accused. The Diocese is and has been working through the bankruptcy process to maximize the funds available to compensate the victims of sexual abuse, and Bishop Sirba has offered to personally meet with the victims to hear firsthand the pain caused to them by such abuse," according to the statement.