Ex-west St. Paul Priest, Archdiocese Named in Abuse Lawsuit
By Emily Gurnon
October 29, 2013
|Attorneys Jeff Anderson, left, and Michael G. Finnegan point to a display showing former archdiocese officials and the Rev. Robert M. Thurner. (Pioneer Press: John Doman)|
A woman who claimed she was sexually abused by a former St. Paul priest filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court.
The woman, identified as Jane Doe 23, said that the Rev. Robert M. Thurner abused her once at her home in 1984 or 1985, when she was 7 or 8 years old. Her family attended the Church of St. Joseph in West St. Paul; she was a student in about second grade at St. Joseph's school.
The abuse occurred after Thurner admitted to archdiocese officials in 1982 that he sexually abused a 16-year-old boy and bought alcohol for him, the lawsuit claimed.
Instead of going to police with what they knew, the archdiocese transferred Thurner to St. Joseph's after the incident with the boy, which occurred while Thurner was a priest at St. John the Evangelist in Hopkins, according to the suit.
"The archdiocese and its top officials made a choice -- they chose to protect their own reputation and protect Father Thurner's reputation rather than looking out for the well-being of a child," said Mike Finnegan, the plaintiff's attorney, who works with the law firm of Jeff Anderson in St. Paul.
Tuesday's lawsuit -- and others filed recently -- are coming into state courts after the Child Victims Act, which lifts the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims, was passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed by Gov. Mark Dayton this year.
According to a receptionist at a Maplewood assisted-living center where Thurner lives, he was "not taking any calls" Tuesday morning. He did not return a message.
The plaintiff came forward after she read recent press accounts alleging the archdiocese covered up sexual misconduct by several priests, Finnegan said.
Finnegan and Anderson released internal archdiocesan documents Tuesday afternoon that described meetings between top archdiocesan officials and Thurner.
In a May 5, 1988, letter to a Minneapolis counselor to whom Thurner was being referred, then-vicar general Michael O'Connell said that the archdiocese became aware in 1982 of a Minnetonka Police Department investigation involving the teen boy.
"Father Thurner was called in by Archbishop (John) Roach and asked whether or not this was true, and he indicated to Archbishop Roach that it was true," the letter said. "He also pointed out the fact that the boy's parents suspected that there may have been some inappropriate sexual contact, but that they did not in fact know that, and as far as we know, still do not know that."
The boy sued Thurner and the archdiocese in 1991. Another boy filed suit two years later, also alleging abuse by Thurner. Both lawsuits were settled out of court.
Answering questions posed by the plaintiff, Thurner wrote that the then-16-year-old boy asked him in 1980 to buy him pornographic magazines. The boy "indicated a desire for (Thurner) to perform oral sex on him" and Thurner did so. A few months later, Thurner picked the boy up from school and the boy asked Thurner to perform anal sex with him, the court document said. Several more sexual encounters followed, Thurner wrote.
After the 1982 sexual abuse, Thurner was ordered to stop the relationship and attend counseling, the letter to the counselor said.
Archbishop Roach told Thurner to resign from St. John the Evangelist but did not remove him from that parish until about five months later. He was sent to St. Joseph's in West St. Paul -- one of the two parishes at which he had expressed interest in working.
"I want you to understand, Bob, that I keenly feel the pain that you are going through," Roach wrote to Thurner in acknowledging his resignation letter on Nov. 12, 1982.
Six months later, on May 25, 1983, Roach wrote, "Bob, I want to take this opportunity to express my sincerest gratitude for the excellent work that you have done in your priesthood .... I pray that this will be a time of growth and less pressure for you."
Robert Carlson, currently Archbishop of St. Louis, was one of the top officials in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis who knew of Thurner's admitted crimes, documents show.
Carlson met with Thurner in April 1983 after the archdiocese received a call about a second male child who reported abuse by Thurner.
A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis did not immediately return a call requesting comment.
Jane Doe 23's lawsuit names both Thurner, now 87, and the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis as defendants.
Thurner also served at St. Therese and St. Luke's in St. Paul, St. Michael's in Prior Lake, Most Holy Trinity in Minneapolis and St. Edward's in Bloomington, according to the lawsuit.
Thurner resigned from the Church of St. Therese in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood four days before the 1991 lawsuit was filed.
Archdiocese spokesman James Accurso said Tuesday morning that the archdiocese would issue a statement in response to the allegations. By Tuesday evening, that statement had not been received.