On Monday, the Diocese of Winona released the names of 14 diocesan priests "credibly accused" of sexual abuse, including a man still living in Winona and four other living men. A Ramsey County judge ordered the diocese to release the names earlier this month.
Bishop John M. Quinn issued a statement on Monday apologizing for "the insufferable harm to victims, their families, parishioners, and the Church" caused by accusations that diocesan priests sexually abused children and violated "the sacred trust placed in them."
After four years of fighting for this disclosure, attorney Jeff Anderson said, "We believe that there are more that deserve to be known and exposed, but today we take this as a giant step forward." Anderson's firm specializes in clergy abuse cases and is representing an alleged victim in a suit that accuses the diocese of negligence in its response to past reports of abuse.
The diocese argued against publishing the names in court hearings last month, saying that it would condemn the men, who have never been convicted, without a fair trial. "We seek justice on all sides." said Diocese of Winona Director of Mission Advancement Joel Hennessy in an interview this summer, pointing out that the deceased men named in the list have no way to defend themselves. Most of the priests are deceased. Four of the five others are ages 64, 79, 80, and 86, and the statute of limitations is believed to have passed on all of the allegations against them, precluding any criminal charges. Father Leo Koppala, 47, of Blue Earth, was charged with criminal sexual abuse of an 11-year-old girl this summer and was placed on administrative leave pending the result of prosecution.
Anderson argued that the church's failure to report allegations to law enforcement was part of the reason the former priests never stood trial.
What does 'credibly accused' mean?
At the center of the divide over the release of the names is the question of how substantial the claims against former priests are. In the case of former priest Thomas Adamson, civil cases have produced testimony from multiple alleged victims and other evidence against Adamson. However, for most of the men named in the list, the only publicly-known mark against them is their placement on a list of priests credibly accused of child abuse that was generated by the church itself. The diocese has not released details on the reports filed against the men on the list. At this time little is known about the substance of the allegations. So what does "credibly accused" mean?
In response to investigative reports by The Boston Globe that exposed abuses, churches across the country adopted a set of child protection reforms in 2002. The church also hired John Jay College of Criminal Justice to conduct a census on abuse reports and accused priests from dioceses across the country. Dioceses across the U.S. submitted information about reports of abuse and the accused priests to John Jay College. The list the Diocese of Winona released Monday was generated by that census, "The Nature and Scope of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons," also known as "The Nature and Scope" study.
The "Nature and Scope" study directed dioceses across the country to report all allegations that "were not withdrawn or known to be false." As an example of an allegation "known to be false," the study described the instance of an accusation against a person who was not a priest.
In an online statement, diocesan officials said that "the methodology of the [Nature and Scope] study encouraged over-reporting" and included any accusations that were not found to be implausible, even unsubstantiated ones. "These people were never tried," said Hennessy. "That's the difficult part; there are substantiated and unsubstantiated claims" included in the list released Monday.
The list is not the whole story, stated Anderson. He said that he is already working on cases of alleged abuse by individuals that were not included in the recent releases. The census was, by its nature, "an underreport, not an overreport" of abuses, Anderson argued. "This is a self-reporting mechanism; the only way [an incident] got on there is if the presiding bishop decided to put it on there," he said.
Today diocesan officials "not only report [allegations], but report it directly to the civil authorities and the police," said Hennessy. He acknowledged that "in those past decades it was just not done that way."
Both sides agreed this is an occasion to look to the future. For Anderson, moving forward means continuing to expose alleged abuse and wrongdoing and hoping that more victims will be encouraged to come forward. "Closeted" victims "may have been blaming themselves all this time, thinking they were the only ones," he said. This summer in Rochester, 61-year-old Bill Beardmore joined the small number of victims who have spoken publicly about their experiences. As a Caledonia altar boy, Beardmore was allegedly sexually assaulted multiple times by Adamson.
He spoke out to other victims through tears, "You don't have to feel like I did. I felt like I was the person that did something bad. I was a little kid." Beardmore urged others to come forward, publicly or anonymously, to let their stories be heard and to hold those responsible accountable. A recent Minnesota law lifts the statute of limitations in civil sex abuse lawsuits and allows victims to remain anonymous.
For the diocese, moving forward means helping victims and the church heal and continuing reforms that have made the church far safer. "It gives an opportunity for healing that has been held back because of this," Hennessy said of the release. "It's the bishop's intent to never let this happen," he continued. Over 5,000 people have been through the diocese's background checks and child protection programs since they were instated, according to Hennessy. "Everyone from priests to the simplest volunteers in parishes all undergo this training and background checks." In his statement, Quinn called this "a difficult time" for the diocese, but "also a time of hope." He continued, "Today, parishes are vibrant and safer than ever before."
With the exception of confessional privilege, diocesan staff and clergy are required by state and federal law to report to law enforcement or other government agencies instances where they know or have reason to believe that abuse is occurring, as are most professionals who work with children.
The diocese has established a special position to receive complaints of abuse. Victims and those who suspect abuse can also make reports directly to local law enforcement.
Thomas P. Adamson - Served in Winona; 80 years old; suspended 1984; liacized 2009
Sylvester F. Brown - Served in Winona; died 2010
Joseph C. Cashman - Served in Winona; 79 years old; suspended 1992; liacization tribunal pending
William Curtis - Served in Winona; died 2001; suspended 1990
John R. Feiten - Served in Winona, LaMoille; died 2001; retired 2000
Richard H. Hatch - Served in Winona; died 2005; voluntarily left ministry 1960s
Ferdinand L. Kaiser - served in Caledonia, Harmony, Kellogg; died 1973; voluntary resignation 1968
Jack L. Krough - Served in Winona; 64 years old; suspended in 2002; laicization tribunal pending
Michael J. Kuisle - Served in Winona, Rushford, Houston, Ridgeway, La Crescent; died 1971; voluntary resignation 1971
James W. Lennon - Served in Winona, Minneiska, Elba, Altura, Plainview; died 2000; voluntarily left ministry 1984
Leland J. Smith - Served in Rollingstone, Saint Charles, Rushford, Houston, Plainview; 86 years old; suspended 1994; laicization tribunal pending
Robert H. Taylor - Served in Winona, Dakota; suspended in 1995; died 2012
Leo Charles Koppala - Served in Rochester, Blue Earth; 47 years old; on leave 2013 pending criminal charges
The full list including dates of ministerial assignments and current addresses can be found at dow.org/news.aspx under a post titled "Diocese discloses names" dated December 16, 2013.
Search "diocese" on winonapost.com to read more about recent lawsuits.