Court hearing between bishops, attorney general postponed another month

April 2, 2019

The legal standoff between Catholic church officials and the state attorney general will continue for at least another month.

The two sides were scheduled to meet in court Friday, after the bishops in Lincoln and Omaha asked a judge to toss some 400 subpoenas Attorney General Doug Peterson issued in late February. The state had demanded that Catholic churches and schools produce two decades of documents related to clergy sex abuse of minors -- and it gave them a three-day deadline.

In their March 1 court filing to quash the subpoenas, or at least buy more time, lawyers for the church argued Peterson’s subpoenas were too vague, went too far and didn’t give them enough time to comply.

“The attorney general has improperly attempted to use these subpoenas like warrants without a showing of probable cause, by demanding immediate responses, threatening sanctions for failing to comply, and using the element of surprise,” they wrote.

A hearing on the motion was scheduled for the next week, then postponed until Friday. This week, Lancaster County District Court Judge Lori Maret rescheduled that hearing to May 2.

At the hearing, Maret will also consider a motion filed last week by Peterson to dismiss the bishops’ complaint “in its entirety for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which this court may grant relief.”

Peterson’s office began investigating clergy sex abuse in August, when it asked the state’s dioceses to voluntarily produce four decades of internal reports related to sexual abuse of minors.

The bishops say they cooperated: The Archdiocese of Omaha turned over 11,500 pages, for example, and the Lincoln Diocese produced more than 2,500, according to court documents.

But in late February, Peterson issued the subpoenas. He appreciated the voluntary cooperation, he said in a statement, but believed subpoenas were necessary to reveal all reports of impropriety.

And after the bishops challenged him in court, Peterson called the voluntary records incomplete. In fact, he wrote, some of the Catholic institutions had already complied with the subpoenas, and records they provided contained information not previously produced.