Controversy Explained: Shedding Light on Deposition Confusion

By Joseph Kenny
St. Louis Review
June 13, 2014

New! Watch the video statement regarding the controversy from Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and click here to read his letter to Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

A videotaped deposition of Archbishop Robert J. Carlson in a lawsuit involving an alleged abuse some 35 years ago was covered extensively this week when a video clip of it was highlighted to news media outlets at a press conference June 9 by the plaintiff's lawyer.

The attorney "strategically took Archbishop Carlson's response to a question out of context and suggested that the archbishop did not know that it was a criminal offense for an adult to molest a child. Nothing could be further from the truth," a statement from the Archdiocese of St. Louis pointed out. Read the deposition here.

In another part of the deposition, Archbishop Carlson is asked by the plaintiff's attorney whether he knows a specific sexual act by a priest on a child is a crime, and the archbishop answers, "Yes."

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 and a former priest of Winona, Thomas Adamson. Archbishop Carlson is a former priest and auxiliary bishop of the St. Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese, where he served on the Personnel Board and as 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 1976-77.

The transcript of the videotaped deposition covers 156 pages. The portion of the deposition that was highlighted by the plantiff's attorney responds to a question on 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 phrased 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. "We were talking about child-abuse reporting," Goldberg said later. "It was in my mind, I stated in the deposition, and I certainly believe it was in the archbishop's mind, that what he (the plaintiff's attorney) was trying to ask was in the context this appeared — when did you remember that it was mandatory for clergy to report suspected child abuse? That's the context in which this appears."

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 have focused on the number of times Archbishop Carlson said he does 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 has been deposed by the attorney four times between 1985-87 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, Minn. He served in the Diocese of Winona from 1958-75 and at five parishes in the St. Paul and Minneapolis Diocese between 1975-85. 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.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated on June 13 to remove a reference in the 3rd paragraph that suggested media did not report the additional statement from the deposition. Some media outlets reported that detail.

Preventing and reporting abuse

The Archdiocese of St. Louis is committed to the prevention of child abuse and to assisting those who are affected by incidents of child abuse. For purposes of this policy, child abuse means physical injury, sexual abuse or emotional abuse inflicted on a child, other than by accidental means, by those responsible for the child's care, custody and control or from persons who are agents or employees of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

All employees, volunteers, religious, priests and deacons working in the schools, parishes and agencies of the Archdiocese of St. Louis are required to support this policy and to comply with the Procedures developed to implement the Policy.

Reporting Suspected Abuse

Certain persons are required to report to the Missouri Division of Family Services when they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been or may be subjected to abuse or neglect or observe a child being subjected to conditions or circumstances which would reasonably result in abuse or neglect.

Mandated reporters include:

• physicians

• nurses

• any other health practitioner

• psychologists

• mental health professionals

• social workers

• day care center workers

• teachers

• principals or other school officials

• clergymen or priests, except for information received in his professional capacity as a spiritual advisor, confessor, counselor or comforter

• peace officers or law enforcement officials

• persons with responsibility for the care of children

• any other person may report if such person has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been or may be subjected to abuse or neglect

How to report

Missouri Department of Social Services Children's Division Hotline Number: 1-800-392-3738

Victims of sexual abuse, in addition to contacting civil authorities, are asked to come forward in order to receive pastoral assistance. Reports of abuse may be made to any pastor or to Deacon Phil Hengen, Victim Assistance Coordinator, in the Office of Child and Youth Protection of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, at (314) 792-7704.

Communicating concerns means telling someone when you are uncomfortable with a situation or if you suspect abuse. It means paying attention to your own feelings and not waiting until it is too late. Only by communicating concerns can we use our knowledge to protect children. Even if abuse is not occurring, it is still important to let others know when you have concerns.

•Talk to the person who concerns you.

•Speak to their supervisor.

•Notify a Church official.

•Call the child abuse hotline.

•Call the police.

To report old or current allegations of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy or by lay employees or volunteers of the archdiocese, please call (314) 792-7704









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