Judge dismisses nuisance claim against diocese

Categories: Around the Diocese

The Visitor

A Stearns County judge has dismissed a nuisance claim against the Diocese of St. Cloud in a case alleging sexual abuse committed by James Thoennes, a priest of the diocese, in the mid-1960s.

“While I welcome today’s decision by the court, I continue to pray for all victims of clergy sexual abuse, and I remain committed to providing pastoral assistance to help them find justice and healing,” St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler said in a statement Jan. 23.

The plaintiff, Robert Ethen, previously sued Thoennes and the diocese in 1993 and reached a settlement in 1995. The nuisance claim, filed in January 2014, alleged that the diocese failed to publicly disclose sufficient information about Thoennes and other clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse.

In granting the diocese’s motion for summary judgment, Seventh Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Hennesy dismissed the suit’s claims related to both private and public nuisance.

The plaintiff failed to demonstrate that he had any “real property” adversely affected by the actions of the defendant, a requirement under Minnesota law for private nuisance claims, Hennesy said. The claim of public nuisance is barred by the 1995 settlement agreement, which released the diocese from further claims arising from the case, she said.

In January 2014, Bishop Kettler released a list of clergy likely involved in the sexual abuse of minors in the past and the parishes and/or schools where these individuals served. The list of 33 names included Thoennes, who does not have faculties to serve publicly as a priest and currently lives in St. Cloud under restrictions.

Bishop Kettler encourages all victims of abuse to come forward. Contact information for victim advocates and county officials to whom abuse can be reported is available on the diocese’s website www.stcdio.org. Scroll over “About Us,” then “Safe Environment” and click on “How to Report Abuse.” The diocesan victim assistance coordinator, Roxann Storms, also can be contacted at 320-529-4615.