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Jury awards $8M in northern Minnesota clergy sex abuse case; 1st to go to trial under new law


ST. PAUL, Minnesota — A Ramsey County jury Wednesday awarded $8.1 million to a man who says he was molested by a priest in northern Minnesota when he was a boy.

William Weis, 52, alleged he was sexually abused by the Rev. James Fitzgerald at St. Catherine's parish in Squaw Lake in 1978. The lawsuit centered on whether the Diocese of Duluth was negligent in how it supervised Fitzgerald, who died in 2009.

Weis was identified as Doe 30 in his lawsuit. The Associated Press normally does not identify possible victims of sex crimes, but one of his attorneys, Mike Finnegan, said Weis agreed to the use of his name.

"It's an important day for all clergy abuse survivors," another of Weis' attorneys, Jeff Anderson, said in a statement. "This verdict sends a message and a wake-up call to all communities and organizations, near and far, that the most important thing is the safety of our children."

David Clohessy of St. Louis, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the organization hopes the verdict will encourage other victims to come forward.

"Victims often stay silent, assuming no one will believe them, help them, or take serious action. Today's verdict shows that this assumption is no longer true," Clohessy said in a news release.

The jury found the diocese was 60 percent at fault, Minnesota Public Radio News (http://bit.ly/1Opgmh1 ) reported. Fitzgerald's order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, based in St. Paul, was found to be 40 percent at fault.

Attorneys for the diocese and the Oblates declined comment.

The award was less than the $11.7 million Weis had been seeking.

Attorneys said it was the first lawsuit to go to trial under Minnesota's Child Victims Act, passed in 2013. That law opened a three-year window to file claims for older incidents of abuse.

Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

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