By Madeleine Baran
April 2, 2014
Archbishop John Nienstedt will testify under oath today about his handling of clergy sexual abuse allegations in St. Paul and Minneapolis, marking the first time that the leader of the Twin Cities archdiocese has been forced to answer questions about his role in the scandal.
The deposition is part of a lawsuit brought by a man who says he was sexually abused by the Rev. Thomas Adamson in the mid-1970s. The lawsuit claims the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona created a public nuisance by refusing for decades to release information on abusive priests. It says that the actions of top church officials continue to put children at risk.
Church lawyers have tried to block the deposition for months, arguing that it isn't relevant to the case and could be used by the man's attorneys as "a means of harassment, oppression and embarrassment to these witnesses, as well as for the purpose of self-promotion and negative publicity against The Archdiocese." Those arguments failed to convince Ramsey County Judge John Van de North and the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Van de North also declined to seal the deposition and ordered the archdiocese to turn over thousands of documents about accused priests to lawyers representing the alleged victim. The judge had previously ordered the archdiocese to publicly disclose the names of priests it considered to have been "credibly accused" of child sexual abuse. He also ordered the deposition of former vicar general Kevin McDonough, scheduled for April 16.
Jeff Anderson, an aggressive lawyer who first exposed the archdiocese's cover-up of abuse in the 1980s and has been investigating the archdiocese ever since, will lead the questioning of Nienstedt. Anderson said he expects to release portions of the deposition within 30 days.
Anderson has deposed bishops from across the country, including previous Twin Cities' archbishops Harry Flynn and John Roach, in previous lawsuits. His St. Paul firm also deposed Nienstedt in a separate case in 2006 when Nienstedt was the bishop of New Ulm, according to an archdiocese spokesman.
This case is unique, however, because it involves the recent actions of an archbishop still in office. It could delve into questions about cases that remain under criminal investigation. In one such case, St. Paul police are investigating whether Nienstedt and other top church officials failed to immediately report allegations of abuse by the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer as required by state law. Wehmeyer is now in prison for sexually abusing two boys and possessing child pornography.
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