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Hearing on subpoena deadline postponed

A March 12 hearing to determine when the Archdiocese of Omaha and its parishes, schools and institutions will be required to respond to subpoenas from Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson’s office has been postponed to an unspecified date.

The subpoenas, issued Feb. 26, asked for records related to the sexual assault or abuse of children, and were issued to more than 400 Catholic parishes, schools and other institutions throughout the state, including those in the Lincoln and Grand Island dioceses.

Although all three dioceses have pledged cooperation with the attorney general’s investigation, the archdiocese and the Lincoln diocese together challenged in Lancaster County District Court the original March 1 deadline as impossible to meet.

The lawsuit also said the requests were overly broad, and that the cost in time, travel and searching thousands of computers would run into the millions of dollars.

It said the subpoenas required 22 years of “business, real estate, litigation, financial, employment, personnel and insurance records, including email and other digital or electronically stored information.” 

“We are negotiating with the attorney general’s office about the scope of the subpoenas, and those negotiations are ongoing,” said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor. “We think our discussions will result in a manageable and realistic scope and timeline to respond to the subpoenas.” 

The archdiocese directed parishes and schools to hold off on responding to the subpoenas pending a decision from the Lancaster County District Court, he said.

A Feb. 26 news release from the attorney general’s office said, “The subpoenas request all records or information related to any child sexual assault or abuse that has occurred by those employed or associated with each church or institution, whether previously reported or not.”

Late in 2018, the Omaha archdiocese turned over more than 11,500 pages of records and investigative documentation to the attorney general’s office and released to the public a list of 38 clergy members with substantiated claims of clergy sexual abuse or sexual misconduct with a minor since 1978. The list also was submitted to the attorney general.

In a March 1 statement, the attorney general’s office said the subpoenas were issued because the voluntary submissions were incomplete. “As of today, there are a number of Catholic institutions that have complied with the subpoenas. Those records have contained information not previously produced,” it said. “The Attorney General’s foremost concern is that these records be produced in a complete and unaltered state.” 

But the lawsuit asks the court to order the attorney general to accept copies instead of original documents and extend the deadline to 60 days for diocesan offices and 30 days for schools and parishes.

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