Twin Cities Archdiocese, Priest Abuse Victim Settle; First Settlement under New Law
By Emily Gurnon
August 21, 2014
|Jon Jaker now at age 54, left, and as an 11-year-old in 1971|
He was once a terrified 11-year-old filled with guilt and shame at being molested by his St. Paul parish priest.
As an adult serving six years aboard Navy submarines, he felt safer next to a nuclear warhead in the middle of the Pacific Ocean than he had at church.
Now, he said, he's not terrified anymore. And he wants the world to know his name.
"My name is Jon Jaker," said the 54-year-old resident of Orange, Calif., who won a settlement Wednesday morning in his lawsuit against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Jaker claimed he was sexually abused by the Rev. Thomas Stitts at the rectory of St. Leo Parish (now Lumen Christi in the Highland Park neighborhood).
The archdiocese does not dispute that the abuse took place, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens said Wednesday.
The settlement is the first of about 23 cases filed since May 2013 involving sexual abuse by priests under the Minnesota Child Victims Act.
The legislation opened a three-year window in which victims of childhood sexual abuse can file lawsuits that were otherwise barred by the statute of limitations.
The case also marked the first time that a high-ranking member of the clergy participated with attorneys in settlement negotiations, Cozzens said.
Vicar General Charles Lachowitzer "was able to hear the victim's story and express regret that it took so long for us to hear that story," he said.
"We hope that victims will see our actions here today and in the future and know we are serious about working toward healing."
Cozzens also apologized in a statement "for the harm suffered by abuse victim/survivors and their families and friends and asks for forgiveness for the church's shameful failures of the past."
Jaker's mother, Yvonne Jaker of Fridley, said she went to the archdiocese when she learned of the abuse in 1971, but she was told that no one there handled such reports.
|Father Thomas Stitts is shown in front of St. Leo Parish in St. Paul in July 1971. (Pioneer Press file photo)|
he said she has struggled ever since.
"Forty-three years of anguish, thinking that I had failed as a mother," she said. "How in heaven's name could somebody slip under the radar and hurt your child?"
She said she then watched helplessly as Stitts was moved to other parishes.
Jaker, who sued as John Doe 100, told reporters Wednesday at his attorney's office that he and another boy were molested during a sleepover at the church rectory. In his lawsuit, he said Stitts forced him to undress, fondled him and rubbed his genitals on him.
The abuse began in 1971 and continued thereafter, the suit said.
To this day, Jaker said, "I lock my doors still, in my own home, in my bedroom."
After Jaker's suit was filed in June 2013, another man contacted Jaker's lawyer, Patrick Noaker, and said he had witnessed the abuse.
On Wednesday, Jaker encouraged other victims to come forward.
"There's a chorus of us building, as strong survivors, and I want that sound to grow," he said. "Raise your head up. Be counted. Join the chorus. Fight. And get help."
The archdiocese said the settlement was not confidential but said it would let Jaker decide whether to disclose its details. Jaker declined to specify the dollar amount.
Archdiocese officials said in December that Stitts was among priests who had "substantiated claims against them" of sexually abusing children.
At least 14 other victims have named Stitts in lawsuits. Among them are four Edina brothers who say he molested them while he was a priest at Our Lady of Grace in Edina.
During the time that Stitts served in the archdiocese, he was assigned to St. Matthew in St. Paul (1962-1965), Our Lady of Grace in Edina (1965-1966), Guardian Angels in Hastings (1966-1970) Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul (1970), St. Leo in St. Paul (1970-1973), St. George in Long Lake (1973-1980) and St. John the Baptist in New Brighton (1980-1985).
Stitts died of cancer in 1985 at age 50.
Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522. Follow her at twitter.com/emilygurnon.