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Catholic Church Case Settles under Public Nuisance Theory
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Catholic Church Case Settles under Public Nuisance Theory

Summary: A settlement has been reached in a Minnesota case, which accused Catholic priests of molesting young boys and accused the church leaders of covering it up and even allowing it to continue.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a settlement has been approved in a sex abuse case involving Catholic church leaders in Minnesota. The leaders were accused of creating a public nuisance by failing to warn their congregations about an allegedly abusive priest.


The case was filed against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona, which is roughly 100 miles away from St. Paul. It’s apparently the first clergy sexual abuse case in the nation that uses the public nuisance theory. When implementing this legal theory, victims’ attorneys sought evidence of sexual abuse within the archdiocese, as opposed to centering the case on allegations against one person.

Tens of thousands of church documents were disclosed during the case, as well as the names of dozens of priests who were accused of sexual abuse. The evidence, which included court-ordered depositions of Archbishop John Nienstedt and other leaders, showed how officials handled the accusations of misconduct within the church.

Judge James Van de North approved the settlement in Ramsey County court after he met with attorneys on both sides of the case. Jeff Anderson, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, would not reveal any details about the settlement since a 1:00 p.m. press conference was planned. A statement from his firm noted that church officials in St. Paul and Winona agreed to 17 child protection protocols.

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Anderson stated, “This is a landmark case. It’s monumental in a lot of ways.”

Attorneys had sought to dismiss the case and argued that the public nuisance claim was invalid. However, Judge Van de North allowed the case to proceed on those grounds.

The case, which was filed in May 2013, proceeded under a law that provided a three year time frame for victims of past sexual abuse to file claims that would have otherwise been barred under applicable statutes of limitations.

The plaintiff, named only as Doe 1 in court documents, states he was abused by Thomas Adamson in 1976 and 1977, when he served as an altar boy in St. Paul Park. The complaint accused the archdiocese and diocese of being negligent since they allowed Adamson ongoing access to children in the church, even though church leaders knew that he had acted inappropriately around the young boys.

Adamson admitted in his deposition that he molested around 12 teenagers over roughly a twenty-year period from the 1960s to the mid-1980s. Adamson was removed from active ministry in 1985 and was defrocked in 2009.

Adamson has never been criminally charged for his actions.

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