Former Rochester priest admits to abusing multiple children over 20 years

By Kay Fate
June 11, 2014

Thomas Adamson, a former Rochester priest at the heart of a lawsuit against officials of the Catholic church, told attorneys that he sexually abused at least 10 boys but said he "looked at it more as a sin than — a crime."

Adamson's May 16 videotaped deposition in Rochester was released today by Jeff Anderson, the Twin Cities attorney whose law firm represents several alleged victims who say high-ranking diocese officials in the Twin Cities and Winona, where Adamson previously worked, simply moved him from parish to parish despite complaints of abuse that surfaced as early as 1964.

It's the latest testimony to be made public, following that of former St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Harry Flynn, current Archbishop John Nienstedt and others.

Now 80 and living in Rochester, Adamson balked at the first question posed. When asked about his current health, he asked his attorney, "What do you want me to say about that?"

"You tell him how healthy you are or not," said Mark Gehan. "Answer the question."

Adamson then told attorneys he was "in line for open heart surgery in two weeks," followed by a hip replacement. Anderson said Tuesday in an interview with the Post-Bulletin that the former priest was "in good health when I deposed him."

Adamson has never spent a day in jail, nor faced criminal abuse charges — the statute of limitations has expired — but is the defendant in multiple civil suits.

Despite acknowledging that he had a 10-year relationship with one victim, had sexually abused several boys and had been caught at least once by law enforcement at a rendezvous with one victim, Adamson said he "reacted negatively" to his removal from the priesthood in 2010. He had voluntarily retired from active priesthood in 1984.

"Had anything happened that you believe precipitated (removal) after all these years?" Anderson asked.

"No. I would say no to that," Adamson said. "I didn't have any legal stuff going on or problems, and I had worked satisfactorily supporting myself for years. I made mistakes, but I liked priesthood."

He testified he last engaged in sexual contact with a minor in "1981 or 1982, maybe."

Adamson was first assigned to Rochester Lourdes High School in 1962, where he was assistant principal. He also lived at the school's rectory. He admitted he continued sexual contact with a 14-year-old he met at a junior high school in Winona.

In 1963, Adamson was sent to Caledonia, where he testified he molested "I think two" boys and was sent back to Lourdes in 1964.

He denied allegations that he abused two boys while at Lourdes the second time, maintaining that many of his reassignments were because of promotions or a need to fill parish vacancies.

He testified that he believes "the definitions of abuse are different. I don't know what ... is inappropriate (conduct) in contrast to overt sex."

He apologized to Winona Bishop Bernard Harrington and others after his removal from the priesthood: "I just said I'm sorry for — generically, for whatever harm I've done."

Anderson asked what harm he was apologizing for.

"Well, I was involved in lawsuits and hurt some people in some parishes and the whole gamut," Adamson said.

Throughout his time in the priesthood, "not one (church official) ever asked him how many kids he abused," Anderson said Tuesday. "Nobody ever asked him, until I asked it."

He cited Winona diocese bishops Loras Watters and Edward Fitzgerald, now both dead, as the most negligent in their duties. Both received several reports of Adamson's abuse of minors.

"To them, they see themselves as caring for these kids," Anderson said of officials who did nothing. "They really don't understand how damaging it is because if they did, they couldn't live with themselves. Denial is a very powerful dimension."

Adamson, he added, "has no realization of the pain and the hurt that he's caused to these people. There's a narcissism about offenders that's pathological. I think he's a classic glimpse into the mind of a molester."




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