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Twin Cities archbishop said he tried to limit ‘total disclosure’ of suspected abusive priests

ST. PAUL -- The top official in the Twin Cities archdiocese said in a sworn deposition that he learned early on about priests who had been accused of sexually abusing children but believed only “certain people in parishes” needed to know.

Archbishop John Nienstedt said he has since changed his mind about that.

Plaintiff’s attorney Jeff Anderson and his co-counsel Michael Finnegan made public Tuesday morning the 200-page written transcript and selected video clips from Nienstedt’s April 2 deposition, taken as part of a lawsuit by an alleged abuse victim.

As Anderson held his news conference, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis also released the written transcript via email to the media and posted it on its website. It later posted the entire video deposition.

Anderson said in response to questions from reporters that Nienstedt lied during the deposition, and that he “has disqualified himself from the position” of archbishop.

Anderson did not point to specific misstatements by Nienstedt. He said the prelate engaged in a “serious pattern of deceit and denial” as Anderson questioned him on child sex abuse by priests and the response by the archdiocese.

In response to Anderson’s statements Tuesday, archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso referred a reporter back to the deposition transcript. Accurso also pointed out that Anderson asked Nienstedt no questions about the case of alleged abuse victim Doe 1, within whose lawsuit the deposition was ordered.

Nienstedt said during the approximately four-hour deposition that he met with his advisors shortly after he took the helm of the archdiocese in 2007.

Those advisors include his top deputy, the Rev. Kevin McDonough.

“Father McDonough informed me that as part of our procedures, we would disclose to certain people in parishes where — where priests (accused of abuse) had served,” the archbishop said.

Anderson asked how it was determined who would get the information.

“My recollection is … it was the pastor and the trustees of the parish,” Nienstedt said.

Didn’t the parishioners and the public have a right to know? Anderson asked. “Why didn’t you tell the people that you had a number of priests under monitoring?”

Nienstedt said, “I believe that we felt that we could monitor the situation without making a total disclosure to the people.” Asked if he still felt that way, he added, “No. I do not.”

The deposition “captures, I believe, the harsh reality that the promises and the pledges made by this archbishop and his predecessors — that the kids in our communities are safe — are not true and have been broken,” Anderson said Tuesday.

Nienstedt led an archdiocese that has pledged “zero tolerance” for priest sexual abuse, and yet kept alleged offenders in ministry, Anderson said. Those included priests Michael Keating of the University of St. Thomas and Kenneth LaVan, according to the deposition.

Keating was accused in 2006 of sexually abusing a teenage girl. He kept working until the girl sued in October 2013. Anderson represents her. LaVan allegedly abused two minor girls in the 1980s, and was not removed until December 2013, Anderson said.

At several points in the deposition, archdiocese attorney Daniel Haws tells Anderson that he is trying to make “clips” and “sound bites” through his questions.

The deposition, which archdiocese attorneys fought, went forward after the Minnesota Court of Appeals refused to consider an appeal by the archdiocese of a Ramsey County judge’s ruling.

Judge John Van de North’s decision came in a lawsuit filed in May by a man identified as Doe 1. He alleges former priest Thomas Adamson molested him in 1976 or 1977 when Adamson served at St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park.

Anderson told the media Tuesday that his office had turned over the deposition, as well as all priest files it had received in the last several weeks, to the police.

Howie Padilla, a St. Paul police spokesman, said Anderson provided police with the deposition April 15. Police also received other new information from Anderson, he said.

“When new information presents itself, we’ll examine that information and determine in which direction it takes us,” Padilla said Tuesday.

Nienstedt became co-adjutor bishop for the Twin Cities archdiocese in April 2007. He served in that position — essentially then-Archbishop Harry Flynn’s successor — until he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to lead the archdiocese in 2008.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.