Judge allows public nuisance claims to proceed in abuse lawsuits against Diocese of New Ulm

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NEW ULM, Minnesota — A judge has ruled that three people who claim they were sexually abused by priests can proceed with public nuisance claims against the Diocese of New Ulm in southern Minnesota.

Brown County District Judge Robert Docherty dismissed some counts in the two lawsuits in a ruling dated March 27. But he ruled that the public nuisance claims can go forward.

That's significant because the plaintiffs' attorneys, Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, successfully used the same novel legal strategy in other lawsuits against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to force Archbishop John Nienstedt and other officials to give sworn depositions and turn over documents.

New Ulm is the only Minnesota diocese that won't release a full list of its priests that have been credibly accused of abuse, Finnegan said Wednesday. He pointed out that Nienstedt used to be its bishop.

One lawsuit was filed by two former altar boys who say they were abused by a priest in the late 1960s and early '70s at St. Joseph's Church in Silver Lake. The other is by a former parishioner at the Church of St. Andrew in Granite Falls who says he was abused by a priest there in 1982. Both lawsuits claim the diocese created a public nuisance by concealing the histories of the two priests, putting other children in danger.

Anderson said Nienstedt, when he was bishop of New Ulm, compiled a list around 2003 of 12 of its current and former priests who had been credibly accused of sexually abusing children, but refused to make it public. He said they will use the judge's ruling to scrutinize Nienstedt's decisions regarding that list and any clerics who have been accused of abuse since it was created.

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