Winona Diocese Still Paying Priest Who Admitted to Abusing Boys
By Jerome Christenson
Winona Daily News
June 13, 2014
A former Diocese of Winona priest who has admitted to having sex with more than 10 boys still draws a monthly check from the Diocese of Winona.
According to an agreement outlined in a letter signed Oct. 9, 2008 by Winona Bishop Bernard Harrington, Thomas Adamson will draw the annual pension agreed upon for senior priests under the Diocese Priests Pension Plan, along with medical and dental coverage for “the remainder of your life.”
Six months later, Pope Benedict XVI granted Adamson “dispensation from all the obligations connected to sacred ordination,” formally removing him from the Roman Catholic priesthood more than 45 years after he admitted sexually abusing boys to Bishop Edward Fitzgerald.
Adamson’s ongoing financial relationship with the diocese was revealed in a sworn May 16 deposition Adamson provided as part of a suit brought against the Diocese of Winona and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis by an anonymous plaintiff who claims he was sexually abused by Adamson in the 1970s. The lawsuit is the first filed after the Minnesota Legislature opened a three-year window in 2013 that set aside the statute of limitations in cases of abuse.
The Diocese of Winona failed to respond to requests for a statement or comment about Adamson’s deposition.
The transcript of Adamson’s deposition was made public this week. In a calm, matter-of-fact voice captured on video, Adamson, 80, details his sexual history and the reaction of church officials to its revelation.
Adamson was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Winona in 1958. Three years later, while serving at St. Adrian’s parish, he had sexual contact with a 14-year-old boy. “I think he was very interested in me, interested in sex,” Adamson said.
Guided by questioning from attorney Jeff Anderson, Adamson went on to detail sexual contacts with boys — John Doe 1, John Doe 2, John Doe 3, through John Doe 38.
“...Did you realize,” Anderson asked, “’I’m a priest, I’m an adult, this is a kid, this is a crime?’”
“Never,” Adamson said. “I looked at it more as a sin than a crime.”
By his admission, Adamson would continue in his sin for more than 20 years, in two dioceses, under the supervision of two Winona bishops and the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
It was only in 1984, when a former victim came forward to publicly accuse Adamson of abuse, that he finally faced up to the potential consequence of his conduct.
“And at that time then, I said, not only can I not do this, I don’t even dare be in contact with a youth or I’ll be accused. So that’s been all my years in Wisconsin — there was never a youth in my apartment or my car at any time,” Adamson said.
At no time did any archbishop, bishop, or church official ask him to list the names of all the boys he had sexually abused. “There would be meetings on specific cases, but I was never asked to list names,” Adamson said.
With charges filed against him, Adamson was placed on leave by the Archdiocese, but he retained his status as priest, performing his last public act as a priest when he presided at the funeral of his grandmother in 1986.
Still, Adamson clung to his priestly status. “Well, I made mistakes, but I like priesthood,” he said “... My affection for the priesthood was ongoing to now.”
He lived quietly, working in an Eau Claire nursing home, each day saying Mass alone in his home, praying the Liturgy of the Hours --”I’ve never missed that in 60 years.”
He said he maintained friendships with priests still active in the Winona Diocese, and on occasion Bishop Harrington would drop by.
“(A)nother priest lived in Wisconsin that we would also visit and he would call and ... stop and see me.” He was led to believe “that I could live out my life as a priest.”
Then, in 2008, Bishop Harrington approached Adamson. “At one point he said, ‘It’s time for you to seek laicization,’ and he gave me the alternative for that,” Adamson said. The choices were to apply voluntarily or go through a canonical trial.”
“He never gave me a reason except, ‘It’s time.’”