Man Files Suit against Duluth Diocese
Lawsuit: a Former Proctor Man Who Says He Was Sexually Abused by a Catholic Priest Four Decades Ago Has Hired a St. Paul Lawyer Who Has Represented More Than 700 Alleged Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse
By Mark Stodghill
April 5, 2003
A former Proctor man is suing the Diocese of Duluth and St. Rose Catholic Church in Proctor claiming he was sexually abused by a priest nearly four decades ago.
The 49-year-old man said he was molested by the Rev. John Nicholson at the Proctor church starting in 1965 when he was an 11-year-old altar boy.
The suit claims that the alleged sexual abuse by Nicholson led the plaintiff to develop various coping mechanisms and symptoms of psychological distress, "including great shame, guilt, self-blame, depression, repression and disassociation."
The plaintiff is known in court documents as "John Doe 65." His name will become public when the case goes to trial, scheduled for Feb. 9, in St. Louis County District Court in Duluth.
The suit asks for more than $50,000 in damages.
"I wouldn't dare tell anybody at that time," the man said of the alleged sexual abuse. He lives in Arizona in the winter and in Superior in the summer. His attorney reached him in Arizona on Thursday and placed a conference call to the News Tribune.
"I went to Catholic schools. The priest was the God," the man said. "You didn't question anything the priest did. You just didn't dare to. I would like people to know if something happens to them to come forward no matter how hard it is or how afraid you are to say something at the time."
The man said he was so ashamed that he had repressed the memory of being molested until those memories were triggered when he read an article in a Duluth newspaper in 1996 that reported the sexual abuse of another boy by a Catholic priest. The article also included information on how to contact the Duluth Diocese, he said.
"I read that and just a flood of emotions started," the man said. It became clear that the abuse had changed his life, he said.
In his lawsuit, the man claims that the alleged sexual abuse by Nicholson included fondling and masturbating the minor.
According to the complaint, Nicholson died in 1988.
"As I look back at it, by the time I turned 13 I had a whole personality change," the man said. "I started smoking. I started drinking and with that I had full anger. I had a hard time trusting anybody. I had depression, anxiety, a whole range of emotions."
The man said the newspaper article included a phone number for the Diocese of Duluth. He said he called Rev. Dave Tushar, who set up counseling for him in Duluth in 1996. He said his first meeting with a psychologist was on Oct. 16, 1996, which could make the statute of limitations an issue in the case.
Under Minnesota law, an action for damages based on personal injury caused by sexual abuse must be started within six years of when the plaintiff knew that the injury was caused by the sexual abuse.
No one at the Diocese of Duluth could be reached for comment Friday.
Duluth lawyer John Kelly is representing the Diocese and St. Rose Catholic Church. He referred a reporter to his court-filed answer to the complaint.
In his answer, Kelly said that Nicholson was not acting within the scope of his duties as a Roman Catholic priest at any time he is alleged to have sexually abused or exploited the man.
Kelly also says that the man had reason to know that he was injured by the alleged sexual abuse more than six years before filing the lawsuit.
The plaintiff is being represented by St. Paul lawyer Jeff Anderson, one of the most prominent lawyers in the country in handling sexual abuse cases by clergy. Anderson said he has represented more than 700 alleged victims of sexual abuse by clergy and tried more than 250 jury cases to verdict.
Anderson's law office said he has won more than 20 cases where he recovered more than $1 million in settlements or verdicts.
"This is a classic case of a very young, vulnerable person, who was raised a Catholic, taught to trust the priest and he did," Anderson said of Doe. "Father Nicholson was a very important figure in his life. He was a very gentle, seemingly caring priest and at a very vulnerable time he betrayed that trust. The boy, a man now, suffered in secrecy, silence and shame like so many victims."
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