Winona Diocese names 14 priests accused of abuse
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona on Monday named 14 priests accused of sexually abusing minors, most of whom were not previously known by the public or local churchgoers to have faced such allegations.
The diocese filed the list in Ramsey County District Court, a day before a deadline set by a judge. Some of the listed priests served at dozens of Catholic churches and schools in southern Minnesota cities and small towns, primarily from the late 1940s to the early 1990s, although two served in the last decade.
Nine of the priests on the list are dead. Of the five still living, the diocese said one has been removed from priesthood, three are in that process, and one is on forced leave pending criminal proceedings in Faribault County.
The list released Monday includes priests who the diocese considers to be credibly accused. Joel Hennessy, spokesman for the Winona Diocese, said that Bishop John Quinn hoped that releasing the list demonstrates "the sincere apology of the diocese, and the desire to heal and to begin moving forward."
It's the latest such disclosure as Catholic bishops in Minnesota face ongoing legal pressure after years of keeping the names secret. Attorneys for abuse victims had sought the public disclosure of the list, saying it was in the interest of public safety. Earlier this month, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis named 34 priests accused of abuse under the same judicial order.
The information includes the priests' ages and, when known, their years of ordination, the parishes where they served, the date they were removed from ministry, their statuses, and the cities where they live. Hennessy said churches and schools where the priests served received separate notifications on Monday.
A St. Paul law firm that represents church abuse victims got a copy of Winona's list in 2009, but it was barred by the court from releasing it publicly.
Mike Finnegan, an attorney at the firm, said only one priest on the list had previously been widely known to have faced abuse allegations. That priest had been the subject of a civil lawsuit based on service under both the Winona and St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese. He was suspended from ministry in 1984, and removed from the priesthood in 2009.
"The people who have been suffering in secrecy, often blaming themselves, this gives them permission to come forward and to get help," Finnegan said.
He said attorneys would continue to seek the release of further information about the priests on the lists, particularly files kept by church leaders regarding when they knew of allegations and how they handled them.
A handful of new victims have already come forward since the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese released its list earlier this month. Archbishop John Nienstedt has said that from now on, substantiated claims of abuse will be disclosed on the archdiocese website.
In the most recent case on the Winona Diocese list, a priest who'd relocated to southern Minnesota from India in 2008 was charged in Faribault County with sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl. He has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of criminal proceedings.
Shannon Hanzel, a retired Winona high school teacher who has worked with activists to pressure local church leaders to open up about abuse claims, urged her fellow Catholics on Monday to join in efforts to change the church from within. She reached out in particular to those who attended churches that appeared on the list.
"It's going to be very difficult, it's going to be very painful for lifelong Catholics who have had such love for the church and such respect for the clergy," Hanzel said. "It's hard to leave that comfort zone, but something has to be done."
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