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Minnesota Churches Settle Clergy Abuse Lawsuit

Image: The files of 14 priests with credible allegations of child sexual abuse in the Diocese of Winona were released at a news conference
The files of 14 priests with credible allegations of child sexual abuse in the Diocese of Winona were released at a news conference Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014 in Rochester, Minn. "It's been covered up. It needs to stop. End. Over," said sexual abuse survivor Paul Hotchkiss, left, who revealed his identity to the public at the conference. Also pictured, from left, are former priest and advocate Patrick Wall and St. Paul, Minn. attorney Jeff Anderson.Elizabeth Nida Obert / Rochester Post-Bulletin via AP

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Victims of clergy sex abuse stood next to Catholic church leaders in Minnesota on Monday to announce a settlement to a novel lawsuit that includes new measures to keep children safe. The settlement averts a November trial of the claim that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona created a public nuisance by failing to warn parishioners about an abusive priest.

"We forged a new way and that new way is an action plan — an action plan that not only protects kids in the future, but honors the pain and sorrow and grief of the survivors of the past," victims' attorney Jeff Anderson said.

Among the new protocols: Church leaders won't recommend a priest for active ministry or for a position working with minors if they've been credibly accused of sexual abuse; they won't conduct an internal investigation or "interfere in any way" with law enforcement investigations; and each clergy member will sign a declaration stating he has not abused a minor.

The measures differ from national policy set forth by U.S. bishops more than a decade ago by requiring the archdiocese to reveal the names of all abusers and documents related to their cases. They also spell out in greater detail the care the archdiocese is required to provide victims, among other provisions.

However, it is unclear how the protocols could be enforced, given that they involve the internal workings of the church. The case is believed to be the first such nationwide to use the public nuisance theory. That claim allowed victims' attorneys to seek evidence of sexual abuse across the archdiocese, rather than focus on allegations against one individual.

It forced the unprecedented disclosure of tens of thousands of church documents and the names of dozens of accused priests. The flood of information included the public release of court-ordered depositions of Archbishop John Nienstedt and other church leaders, revealing how top officials handled allegations of misconduct by priests. Nienstedt has apologized for any mistakes but has said he won't step down. He also said he doesn't believe he mishandled the situation.

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Image: The files of 14 priests with credible allegations of child sexual abuse in the Diocese of Winona were released at a news conference
The files of 14 priests with credible allegations of child sexual abuse in the Diocese of Winona were released at a news conference Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014 in Rochester, Minn. "It's been covered up. It needs to stop. End. Over," said sexual abuse survivor Paul Hotchkiss, left, who revealed his identity to the public at the conference. Also pictured, from left, are former priest and advocate Patrick Wall and St. Paul, Minn. attorney Jeff Anderson.Elizabeth Nida Obert / Rochester Post-Bulletin via AP

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