Polk County judge to decide on confidentiality of accused clergy
CROOKSTON — The lists exist, but whether they will be made public is now up to a judge.
Steven Aggergaard, an attorney representing the Diocese of Crookston, argued there is no concrete harm in keeping a list of priests accused of sexual abuse private.
The statement came in Polk County Judge Tamara Yon’s courtroom. She must now decide whether the diocese is legally required to release their list as part of a lawsuit filed in June by St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson.
Anderson, well known for pursuing cases involving sexual abuse by clergy, represents a Bemidji woman who claims she was sexually abused from 1969 to 1970 by the Rev. James Porter, who was convicted of sexually abusing 28 children.
Porter was with the diocese at the time of the alleged abuse of the Bemidji woman.
The lawsuit, in addition to monetary damages, seeks the lists of accused priests compiled by the three defendants — the Diocese of Crookston, the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., and the Servants of the Paraclete, which has housed priests accused and in some cases convicted of sexual abuse at their Jemez, N.M., facility.
Porter, who died while a prisoner in Massachusetts in 2005, was a priest in the Fall River diocese and attended the New Mexico facility.
The lists held by the defendants came as a result of the 2004 John Jay Study, a national effort to chronicle abuse by Catholic priests from 1950 to 2002.
In court, Anderson compared the use of public nuisance statutes to hold companies accountable for polluting waterways to the public risk posed by keeping the lists secret.
“The secrecy of the (Diocese of Crookston’s) list represents toxicity to that adult,” Anderson said of his client, referred to in court documents as “Jane Doe 4.” “And the way it gets most abated is by exposure of the hazard.”
The counts Aggergaard and lawyers representing the other two defendants moved to dismiss are filed under public nuisance statutes.
“The release of the names needs to be traceable to something that makes a difference, quite honestly,” Aggergaard said.
Anderson has tried, and failed, to force the release of similar lists before.
In July, 2012, the Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by Anderson on behalf of a then 45-year-old man who alleged a cover-up of sexual abuse by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona. The decision ensured that a list of 46 priests accused of sexual abuse across the state would remain secret.
It is unclear how many priests may be on the lists in Jane Doe 4’s suit, said Stacey Benson, a representative of Anderson’s firm. But www.bishop-accountability.org, a website dedicated to documenting priests accused of abuse, lists the Diocese of Crookston as having identified five possible offenders. The group of Catholic bishops who administer the site further stated that 32 accused priests were identified in the Diocese of Fall River.
The number of accused priests on the list held by the Servants of the Paraclete, however, is not publicly known.
If Yon decides the lists must be released, it would be a “groundbreaking” decision, Aggergaard said.
The Rev. David Baumgartner, a monsignor with the Diocese of Crookston, could not be immediately reached for comment.
“The (Diocese of Crookston) determined these men to be credibly accused by their own internal investigation,” Anderson said. “It causes my client great distress that there are kids just like she was, unwary and unwarned.