ST. LOUIS (CNS) — Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said June 13 he wanted to “set the record straight” and “respond to certain misconceptions” about a deposition he gave in a lawsuit involving alleged abuse by a Minnesota priest some 35 years ago.
“I understand this situation has caused concern and frustration for many people, and for that I apologize. Abuse of any kind is a serious moral offense and a crime,” he said in a statement.
Media outlets gave extensive coverage to a video clip of his deposition after the plaintiff’s lawyer highlighted it at a June 9 news conference.
Archdiocesan officials said the clip distorted Archbishop Carlson’s testimony by taking his response to a question out of context, suggesting he “did not know that it was a criminal offense for an adult to molest a child. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The archbishop, who was in New Orleans June 11-13 for the U.S. bishops’ spring assembly, said that during the deposition in May, he “misunderstood a series of questions that were presented to me.”
“I wish to clarify that situation now. I fully understand, and have understood for my entire adult life, as I stated in other sections of this same deposition, sexual abuse is a grave evil and a criminal offense,” he said.
“I reiterate my commitment to protect children from sexual abuse,” he said. “I support mandatory child abuse reporting laws, to which the archdiocese strictly adheres.”
The deposition was related to a lawsuit seeking damages in a Minnesota state court against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Diocese of Winona, Minnesota, and a former priest of Winona, Thomas Adamson.
Archbishop Carlson, ordained a priest for the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese, was an auxiliary bishop there from 1984 to 1994. He served on the archdiocesan personnel board and was vice chancellor and chancellor. Neither Archbishop Carlson nor the Archdiocese of St. Louis are parties of the lawsuit.
The lawsuit concerns allegations of abuse by Adamson of a minor in 1976 and 1977.
“Sexual abuse of children is deplorable and is never to be tolerated,” Archbishop Carlson said in his June 13 statement. “Actions speak louder than words and my record on this issue speaks for itself. I am committed to the safety of children and have shown compassion for victims.
“I have promoted and enacted codes of ethical conduct, extensive safe environment programs and ongoing training for clergy to heighten their awareness of this issue.”
He also urged anyone who has suffered abuse to “first and foremost” tell law enforcement and report it to the archdiocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection “so that justice and assistance can be rendered.”
The transcript of his videotaped deposition covers 156 pages. The portion of the deposition that was highlighted by the plaintiff’s attorney responds to a question about Archbishop Carlson’s knowledge of whether he knew “it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid.”
But the question seconds earlier, which was not included in the highlights, was about his knowledge of mandatory reporting laws. The archbishop’s attorney interrupted to clarify that he was talking about mandatory reporting.
“When the archbishop said, ‘I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,’ he was simply referring to the fact that he did not know the year that clergy became mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse,” the archdiocese’s statement noted.
Charles Goldberg, an attorney representing Archbishop Carlson at the deposition, explained that while current Minnesota law makes it a crime for clergy to fail to report suspected child abuse, that statute did not become effective until 1988. All of the activities in this case predated 1988 by many years, he added.
Mandatory reporting laws were the subject of the questions leading to the archbishop’s response.
An exhibit from 1980 in the deposition pointed out that Archbishop Carlson, who was chancellor at the time, had written of Adamson that “this behavior cannot be tolerated.” The archbishop has been known for decades for being on the front lines of combating sexual abuse of children, Goldberg said.
Reports about the deposition also focused on the number of times Archbishop Carlson said he did not remember the details with accuracy. He pointed out that his notes have been turned over to courts, with more than a dozen exhibits in the case, and that he had been deposed by the attorney four times between 1985 and 1987 about the matters in detail.
“I think in fairness to the archbishop, if you want to ask him about these things and get specific answers, he needs to see these documents because no human being can be expected to remember, regardless of how outrageous some of these matters may have appeared, to explain in detail those things to you without a reference to these depositions 25 to 30 years ago,” Goldberg said in reply to the plaintiff’s attorney.
Archbishop Carlson stated several times in the deposition that he asked parents to report abuse to the police.
Adamson, 80, was removed from ministry in 1985 and has been living in Rochester, Minnesota. He served in the Winona Diocese from 1958 to 1975 and at five parishes in the St. Paul and Minneapolis Diocese between 1975 and 1985.
He has been accused of molesting dozens of boys. He was a defendant in the first lawsuit filed in 2013 under a new Minnesota law that allows victims of child sexual abuse to bring claims decades later. Adamson has been the focus of several lawsuits but has never faced criminal charges.