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Minnesota archdiocese identifies 30 priests accused of abusing minors

By David Bailey and Mary Wisniewski

(Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on Thursday identified 30 priests accused of sexually abusing minors in the archdiocese, which has been under fire for its past handling of clergy abuse cases in its part of Minnesota.

The archdiocese, which issued the list in response to a court order, said the 30 priests had "credible claims against them of sexual abuse of a minor." On four other priests it identified on Thursday, the archdiocese said it was unable to determine whether claims were substantiated against them - none of the four are in ministry and one died in 1965.

The archdiocese said none of the men were still in ministry and most had been identified previously in media reports. The information related mainly to incidents from the mid 1950s to the 1980s, and 11 of the priests are deceased, it said. One of the priests was still at a parish in 2012.

Child sex abuse litigation has cost the U.S. Catholic Church some $3 billion in settlements in the two decades since the ongoing scandal erupted with a series of molestation cases uncovered in Boston in 1992.

Attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents people who say they were victims of clergy sex abuse, said in a telephone interview that release of the names in Minnesota was "real progress" but not full disclosure.

"It's only done under the great weight of the pressure from the courts and the survivors," he said. "It's not the full truth about all of the offenders."

In Rome on Thursday, Pope Francis ordered the formation of a team of experts to address the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the commission announced by Pope Francis "a most welcome initiative" and promised the full cooperation of U.S. bishops.

"Abuse of minors is a sin and a crime, and every step must be taken to eradicate this blight," Kurtz said in a statement.

COURT ORDER

A county court judge in Minnesota on Monday ordered the Twin Cities archdiocese to release the details, which include the clerics' names, date of birth and ordination, their assignments in the archdiocese, their status with the church and where they now live.

One of the 30 clerics named by the archdiocese on Thursday, Curtis Wehmeyer, was working in a parish until his arrest in 2012. St. Paul police criticized the archdiocese for its handling of Wehmeyer's case, which they said hindered the chain of evidence. The archdiocese said it immediately reported the misconduct and cooperated fully with the investigation.

Wehmeyer pleaded guilty last year to child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography and was removed from ministry.

The judge also ordered the Diocese of Winona, Minnesota, to release the identities of 13 priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a statement that he and the archdiocese staff were "completely committed to combating the problem of sexual abuse and doing all we can to ensure that these horrors are never repeated in the church."

Nienstedt said the disclosures made on Thursday were not intended to be final. The archdiocese is reviewing clergy files and will update the list as announcements are made, he said.

"This is a tragedy that has caused insufferable harm to victims, their families, parishioners and the church," Nienstedt said in a statement on the archdiocese website.

Nienstedt in October formally apologized for serious mistakes he said were made in the archdiocese's investigations into allegations of sex abuse by clergy.

The apology from Nienstedt and release of the names follows a move by St. Paul police to reopen an investigation in October into whether a priest had child pornography on a laptop given to a parishioner. It also follows a plea by the St. Paul police for victims of sexual abuse by priests to come forward.

A former archdiocese lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, has questioned the handling of priests suspected of misconduct and accused the archdiocese of failing to report possible evidence of child pornography to law enforcement.

(Reporting by David Bailey and Mary Wisniewski in Chicago; Additional reporting by Geoff Davidian in Milwaukee; editing by David Gregorio and Matthew Lewis)

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