Judge OKs settlement in church abuse case

Associated Press/October 13, 2014

Minneapolis -- A judge signed off on a settlement Monday in a groundbreaking case that accused Catholic church leaders in Minnesota of creating a public nuisance by failing to warn parishioners about an abusive priest.

Ramsey County Judge James Van De North approved the settlement after meeting with both sides Monday, said Jeff Anderson, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

"This is a landmark case," Anderson said on emerging from the settlement conference. "It's monumental in a lot of ways."

St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt issued a statement calling it "a historic moment in our efforts to assure the safety of children and vulnerable adults."

Full details of the settlement were not given, but the sides did release 17 "child protection protocols."

Among them: Church leaders said they will not recommend a priest for active ministry or a position working with minors if they've been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. They also said they would disclose any accusation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest when asked by the priest's potential employer — whether it's by another diocese or outside the church — along with the resolution.

Church leaders also promised not to conduct an internal investigation or "interfere in any way" with law enforcement investigations after they make a mandated report of possible child sexual abuse.

The case against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona is believed to be the first clergy sexual abuse case nationwide to use the public nuisance theory at trial.

That claim allowed victims' attorneys to seek evidence of sexual abuse across the archdiocese, rather than focus on allegations against one individual.

It forced the unprecedented disclosure of tens of thousands of church documents and the names of dozens of accused priests. The flood of information — which included the public release of court-ordered depositions of Nienstedt and other church leaders — revealed how top officials handled allegations of misconduct by priests.

The disclosures compounded an already difficult year for church leaders.

Last fall, a former archdiocese employee went public with allegations that church leaders had mishandled several cases in which priests were accused of abuse. Police began investigating several allegations, and Nienstedt himself was accused of sexual misconduct, which he denied and resulted in no criminal charges.

Nienstedt has apologized for any mistakes, but despite public calls for his resignation he told the AP in July that he wouldn't step down, and that he doesn't believe he mishandled the situation.

Lawyers for the church had asked that the case be dismissed, saying the public nuisance claim didn't stand up, but Van de North allowed it to proceed.

The case was filed in May 2013 under a law that opened up a three-year window for victims of past sexual abuse to file claims that were otherwise barred under the statute of limitations. Similar windows for lawsuits in other states have resulted in payouts in the tens of millions of dollars or more.

The plaintiff, identified in court documents as Doe 1, claims he was abused by Thomas Adamson in 1976 and 1977, when the victim was an altar boy in St. Paul Park. The complaint also alleged the archdiocese and diocese were negligent in allowing Adamson continued access to children, even though leaders knew he had behaved inappropriately with young boys.

Adamson said in a deposition earlier this year that he molested around 12 teens from the 1960s to the mid-1980s. He was removed from active ministry in 1985 and defrocked in 2009. He was never criminally charged.

Adamson has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached.

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