Archbishop Carlson, don’t insult our intelligence! [Updated]

By Phil Lawler
Catholic Culture
June 10, 2014

Please, Archbishop Carlson, don’t insult our intelligence, and we won’t insult yours.

You have testified, under oath, that in the 1980s it was not clear to you that sexual abuse of children was a crime. Do you expect us to believe that? Do you want us to believe it?

If you didn’t know that molesting children was a crime, why were you concerned that parents of a victim might talk to the police? If you didn’t know that sex with children was illegal, why did you write a memo alluding to the statute of limitations?

Leave aside the apparent contradictions in your sworn testimony. Taking it at face value, how are we to respond to your claim that you didn’t know for sure that child abuse was a crime? We aren’t talking about fine detail of the law, some gray area, some arcane local statute. Civilized society, always and everywhere, has taken a dim view of the sexual exploitation of children. If you actually expect us to believe that you didn’t know it was illegal to molest children, then you’re also asking us to believe that you have less practical judgment, less common-sense discernment, less understanding of the nature of law than we expect of any morally responsible person.

But of course you probably did know that sexual abuse was illegal. You probably meant to say that you didn’t know whether or not the terms of the law applied to the particular cases under discussion during your deposition. You were giving a lawyerly response, trying to defend yourself and defend the archdiocese in which you had served. In much the same way, you dodged other questions by saying almost 200 times that you couldn’t recall the details of various cases.

Well, how well has that legal strategy worked? Is the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis in a stronger legal position, now that your deposition has been made public—as you should have known, long so, that it eventually would be? Is the reputation of the Catholic Church improved by the fact that, yet again, an archbishop has been quoted as saying things that most people find impossible to believe? How could things have been worse, if you had simply told the unvarnished truth to the best of your ability, and admitted what everyone already knows?

For nearly 15 years now, we beleaguered lay Catholics have been subjected to the painful spectacle of watching our Church leaders make implausible statements, feign ignorance, deny responsibility, and fight to prevent disclosure of damaging testimony. That strategy has always failed.

Enough! The paltry defenses, the dog-ate-the-homework excuses are an embarrassment to the Church. Stop it! If you don’t know the truth, if you aren’t prepared to testify to the truth, then you aren’t fit to be a Catholic bishop. If you can’t be a credible witness, resign!


The St. Louis archdiocese has issued a statement complaining about “inaccurate and misleading reporting” about Archbishop Carlson’s deposition. The statement suggests that when he expressed uncertainty about “whether I knew it was a crime or not,” the archbishop was referring to a new mandated-reporting law. But the full transcript of the archbishop’s deposition, which the archdiocese helpfully provides, shows otherwise:

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.

The statement from the St. Louis archdiocese claims to be “intended to clear up confusion” about the archbishop’s testimony. I’m afraid it’s actually designed to cause confusion, because right now clarity does not work in Archbishop Carlson’s favor.



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.