Ex-Priest at Center of Minn. Lawsuit Admits to Abusing 12 Teens Decades Ago

By Brandi Powell
June 11, 2014

[with video]

A former priest at the center of a lawsuit against church officials in the Twin Cities and Winona admits he sexually abused 12 teens from the 1960s to the mid-1980s.

Thomas Adamson admits to abusing several children both in the Diocese of Winona and the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

The deposition was made public Wednesday, as part of a civil lawsuit filed against church officials and specifically Adamson. This is the first time we've heard from an accused clergy member.

Some of the responses from Adamson are very graphic. Because of that, we've chosen not to include some it in our coverage.

"Did you, at that time, in your state of mind, did you realize - look I'm a priest, I'm an adult, this is a kid, this is a crime - did that go through your head?" asked Jeff Anderson the alleged victims' attorney.

"Never," Adamson replied under oath. "I don't think. I looked at it more as a sin rather than a crime."

During Adamson's deposition, he is casual while talking about the sexual acts, appearing indifferent about all of the trauma he allegedly caused to so many children.

KSTP sat down with University of St. Thomas law professor, Charles Reid, for analysis. He's an expert on canon law, religion and the Catholic Church.

Reid said, "Rationalization is a feature of pedophiles. They rationalize their behavior, they minimize their behavior, they always tell themselves well this is really not so bad. What's shocking about this case is the total level of ease, comfort even that Adamson shows in testifying. He's sitting there drinking a Diet Coke and talking about some terrible gruesome horrible acts that he's done."

Attorney records show he may have abused 40 children or teens.

The following is what Adamson said under oath to Anderson's questions about where and when the abuse happened.

"And did you abuse that kid?" Anderson asked.

"Yes," Adamson replied.   

"How many times?" Anderson asked.

"Several," Adamson replied.

"And what's your best estimate?" Anderson asked.

"Well I knew him for several years - if it's the person I'm thinking it is," Adamson said.

"And where did those abuses happen?" Anderson asked.

"We did a lot of sports together, basketball, racquetball, golf," Adamson said.

"And, um, where would this happen? Where would this occur?” Anderson asked.

"Any place," Adamson replied.

In another interaction between Adamson and Anderson, at another point during the deposition: Anderson asked, "How many kids, minors, do you estimate you engaged in sexual contact with while you were a priest?"

"That would be just a guess - several," Adamson replied.

"Over 100?" Anderson asked.

"No." Adamson replied.

"Over 50?" Anderson asked.

"No." Adamson replied.

In the deposition taken last month, Adamson admits to abusing at least 10 children.  Attorney records show he may have abused 40. In his deposition Adamson appears overly casual, and indifferent to it all.

At one point, Anderson asked Adamson if bishops in the Archdiocese ever asked him to identify the names or number of kids he abused while he was a priest.

Adamson replied under oath, "There would be meetings of specific cases, but I was never asked to list names."

Professor Reid said, "That's what's frightening about this. It's the level of casualness with which he could simply move from victim to victim, never even caring to know who the victims were, never appreciating that these are human beings whose lives he is humiliating and destroying. That level of casualness is truly frightening."

Adamson is living in Rochester, receiving $1650 in a pension fund, each month, from the Diocese of Winona. He is 80 years old.

He's not behind bars because the statute of limitations has expired.

Adamson's name is on the list of credibly accused priests the archdiocese released late last year. The Archdiocese permanently removed him from ministry in 1985.

Before the list came out, and after, more grown men are coming forward claiming to have been abused by Catholic clergy as children and teenagers.

Jim Keenan says he was abused by Adamson.

"Try to put your hands around the idea that somebody had to force a religious organization to protect children, that's crazy," Keenan told us the day the Archdiocese released the list.

On Wednesday, Keenan said he didn't want to watch the deposition.

"I didn't want to see my abuser sit there nonchalantly and say, 'No, it didn't happen.'"

When asked what he wanted Adamson to say, Keenan replied, "'I did it. I'm sorry. I'm sick, and somebody didn't help me.'"

"There's a part of me that feels a lot of empathy for him. They corralled him and they put him in places where he could re-offend. They didn't help him," Keenan said.

But Keenan reserved his harshest words not for Adamson, but for the church officials who oversaw him.

"I'm angered at the fact that the hierarchy just said, 'Didn't happen,'" Keenan said.

Anderson said, as this deposition is made public, the victims are experiencing a mixed reaction.

There is relief Adamson is being exposed, and pride they're doing something to protect others. On the other hand there is emotional distress that bishops may have protected him that perhaps he’s only admitting to a certain amount of what he did. There is also distress that he's not behind bars because the statute of limitations has expired.

Next in the civil case, Anderson said in the near future more accused priests and the people who may have protected them will be deposed.

Anderson said we will see more depositions made public in the coming months.

We have reached out to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as Adamson's attorney for comment. We haven't heard back from either.


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