Diocese Settles Sex Abuse Suit

By Mark Stodghill
Duluth News Tribune [Wisconsin]
September 15, 2006

FIRST AND ONLY: A Superior man will drop his lawsuit claiming he was abused by a priest 40 years ago in exchange for $250,000 from the Diocese of Duluth and St. Rose Catholic Church in Proctor.

A Superior man who claimed he was sexually abused by a priest four decades ago has settled his lawsuit against the Diocese of Duluth and St. Rose Catholic Church in Proctor for $250,000.

The 53-year-old plaintiff said he was molested by the Rev. John Nicholson at the Proctor church starting in 1965 when he was a 12-year-old altar boy.

The plaintiff, a retired railroad worker, claimed that the alleged sexual abuse by Nicholson led him to develop various coping mechanisms and symptoms of psychological distress. He now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has sustained permanent psychological damage as a result of the alleged sexual abuse.

The plaintiff was 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 his client declined an interview request Thursday.

"It was a great relief," Anderson said when asked his client's reaction to the settlement. "This has tormented him every day in a very incapacitating way. The resolution of this brings a great opportunity for a new life at the age of 53.

"His words to me were, 'Thank God it's over. I'm grateful to God and to you for doing God's work.' He tearfully told me he had been very worried about this and still feels ashamed, although he knows it was not his fault."

Anderson said his client is working with a therapist to help him understand what happened through the lens of an adult instead of the child he was when it happened.

Anderson said 11 children were identified as being abused by Nicholson. Nicholson died in 1988.

Duluth attorney John Kelly represented the Diocese of Duluth and St. Rose Catholic Church.

"The Diocese and St. Rose Parish are pleased for all concerned that this matter has been settled and resolved," Kelly said.

A trial had been scheduled to start Sept. 25 at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth, but the parties reached a settlement agreement Wednesday.

In the boilerplate language of the lawsuit, the plaintiff was seeking in excess of $50,000 in damages.

"This is a story of from trauma to triumph," Anderson said. "I commend and applaud this man and every survivor like him who had the courage to stand up and speak out."

From 1959 through 1967, the plaintiff was an altar boy and student at St. Rose School. He said he was repeatedly molested by Nicholson at the church, in the rectory and at Nicholson's residence at St. Rose in 1966 and 1967.

The plaintiff claimed that the alleged sexual abuse by Nicholson included fondling and masturbating the minor.

But the plaintiff said he had no recollection of the abuse until about 1996, when he read a Duluth News Tribune article about sexual abuse and clergy. The plaintiff said the article triggered four separate memories of sexual abuse by Nicholson.

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 sexual abuse. The plaintiff brought his lawsuit in 2002, about six years after he said he read the newspaper article.

Nicholson served at St. Rose from Aug. 24, 1966, to Jan. 6, 1970. Anderson said four employees, agents or people whom the diocese ultimately controlled either witnessed Nicholson sexually abuse children, caught Nicholson with children alone in his room, or knew that Nicholson was sexually inappropriate with students.

Sixth Judicial District Judge John T. Oswald denied the defendants' motion for a summary judgment, and he set the case for trial before the settlement was reached.

Oswald wrote in a memorandum accompanying his order:

"Summary judgment is inappropriate in this case because reasonable persons could draw different conclusions based on the record.

"Plaintiff has submitted several depositions from others who claim to have been molested. Many of the alleged victims recite similar stories of abuse. ... Given the short time period Father Nicholson was at St. Rose's church and the sheer number of people who have come forward to allege abuse, it may be that defendants knew or had reason to know of the alleged abuse."

MARK STODGHILL reports on legal affairs and public safety. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5333 or by e-mail at


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