A Catholic Archbishop Claims He Wasn't Sure Whether Sexual Abuse of Kids Was a Crime

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Oh Jesus. St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson defended his past handling of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis by saying that in 1984, he wasn't sure whether the sexual abuse of children was a crime. Back then, Carlson was just an auxiliary bishop in the Twin Cities, but he was involved in the archdiocese's handling of sexual abuse complaints. To make matters worse, Carlson's statement from a deposition last week seems to directly contradict the paper trail he left on these cases, which very much shows that he was aware that molesting or raping a child is a crime, because of course it is. 

The report from the St. Louis Dispatch contains the following exchange from the deposition, part of a lawsuit against the archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona, Minnesota: 

Attorney Jeff Anderson asked Carlson whether he knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child.

“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson replied. “I understand today it’s a crime.”

Anderson went on to ask Carlson whether he knew in 1984, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that it was crime for a priest to engage in sex with a child.

“I’m not sure if I did or didn’t." 

The law firm released a video of the deposition, too: 

But Carlson's statements above don't match up to what he said at the time. In a 1984 memo released by Anderson, Carlson discusses the "statute of limitations" in a case involving the sexual abuse of a child several years ago. The victim had since grown up and been incarcerated for rape

I will see the parents on Thursday, July 5, 1984. They have some anger that there son is in prison because they attempt to get help for him after they became aware of the boy's sexual acting out toward women and Tom Adamson who abused the boy and should bear part of the blame is out and free and does not seem to care.

The boy, apparently, still sees Tom Adamson --- at least according to the counselor. Because he is now 18 they are not concerned about sexual contact at this point.

The statute of limitations does not run out for 2½ years. The mother and father are considering reporting this to the police. 

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis's sexual abuse scandal is one of the more serious ones to emerge in the news in recent years, now the subject of multiple lawsuits. The archdiocese had a decades-long practice of covering up sexual abuse from priests in its ranks, exposed by a whistleblower late last year, as Minnesota Public Radio reported. The Archdiocese has since released a list of 34 priests who faced "credible" accusations of abuse — however, MPR believes the actual number of priests accused of sexual abuse in the archdiocese is at least double that number. 

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Update Wednesday, June 11: The Archdiocese of St. Louis has released a statement defending Archbishop Carlson, saying that "Recent inaccurate and misleading reporting by certain media outlets has impugned Archbishop Carlson’s good name and reputation." The statement adds that "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."

However, the full transcript of remarks from the deposition does not seem to support this claim, as the question he's answering is clearly about sexual abuse, and not the reporting of abuse. Read for yourself (all answers are from Carlson unless otherwise noted, emphasis ours): 

Q. (By Mr. Anderson) And you knew at all times, while a priest, having been ordained in 1970, it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid. You knew that, right?
MR. GOLDBERG [Atty for Carlson] : I'm going to object to the form of that question now. You're talking about mandatory reporting.
MR. ANDERSON: Okay. I'll -- if you don't  like the question, I'll ask another question.
MR. GOLDBERG: Well, you've asked a conjunctive question. One doesn't --
MR. ANDERSON: Objection heard. I'll ask another question. Okay?
MR. GOLDBERG: Go ahead.
Q. (By Mr. Anderson) Archbishop, you knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid?
A. I'm not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not. I understand today it's a crime.
Q. When did you first discern that it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid?
A. I don't remember.

Q. When did you first discern that it was a crime for a priest to engage in sex with a kid who he had under his control?
A. I don't remember that either.

Q. Do you have any doubt in your mind that you knew that in the '70s?
A. I don't remember if I did or didn't.
Q. In 1984, you are a Bishop in the -- an Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul Minneapolis. You knew it was a crime then, right?
A. I'm not sure if I did or didn't.
Q. Well, you're talking about criminal sexual conduct in 1980, and you're talking about it again in  1984, so you knew that to be correct, right?
A. What I said, I said, and if I -- if I wrote it, I said it.


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.