Former top officials at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis misled the public about a priest accused of abusing at least 12 children, according to documents released today by attorneys for a man who claims that a priest abused him years ago.
Archdiocese officials have denied knowing about the abuse before the mid-1990s when victims came forward to sue. "We reject any claims of 'cover-up' in the strongest possible terms," the archdiocese said in a written statement in June 2010.
However, documents released today show that Archbishop John Roach knew in 1980 that Stitts had been accused of sexually abusing a boy in 1973.
In a Sept. 1, 1980 letter to Roach, the boy's parents expressed concern "that other boys not continue to be victimized in this manner." Roach kept the priest in ministry. Stitts died in 1985.
In Dec. 2013, the Archdiocese included Stitts on a court-ordered list of "priests with credible claims against them of sexual abuse of a minor."
Attorneys Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan released the documents as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of man who claims the Rev. Thomas Adamson sexually abused him in the 1970s. The lawsuit accuses the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona of creating a public nuisance by keeping information on abusive priests secret. Earlier this week, the attorneys released documents on the Rev. Ken LaVan, which showed that Archbishop John Nienstedt had provided false statements under oath.
Anderson has said he will continue to release files as he prepares to take the case to trial in Ramsey County District Court on Sept. 22.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese declined to say whether church officials had reported the abuse complaints to police. In a statement, Vicar General Charles Lachowitzer said, "if we receive an allegation of child sexual abuse regarding a priest today, we immediately contact law enforcement."
The Archdiocese also faces several lawsuits brought by alleged victims of Stitts under a law that lifted that state's statute of limitations for three years to allow older victims to sue. Cases need to be filed by May 2016.
One of the suits alleges that the Archdiocese knew as early as 1966 that Stitts was sexually interested in boys but did nothing to stop him. When a boy reported abuse in 1967 to his principal at the former Guardian Angels School in Hastings, no one called police, according to the complaint.
Church leaders learned of more allegations of child sexual abuse between 1970 and 1973, the lawsuit claims, and Stitts was transferred from St. Leo Church in St. Paul to St. George Church in Long Lake after a priest learned that his nephew complained of abuse by Stitts.
The lawsuit alleges that Stitts abused a 14-year-old boy in about 1970 by taking his confession and forcing the boy to touch the priest's penis "as penance."
Other suits allege Stitts sexually touched boys at the St. Leo's parish rectory and in the pool and sauna at St. Paul Seminary in the 1960s and 1970s.
Inside the cover-up
The documents released today provide a look inside the Archdiocese's cover-up of clergy sexual abuse.
In 1983, Stitts told a parishioner that another priest, the Rev. Kevin Clinton, "has stabbed him in the back with the Archdiocese," according to an Oct. 25, 1983 memo from the Rev. Robert Carlson to Roach and Monsignor Ambrose Hayden.
Carlson wrote that Stitts "is afraid that Kevin Clinton knows about his sexual relationship with two boys that stayed at the parish from time to time."
The two boys "came from a troubled family," he wrote. "They lived with Tom at Long Lake and frequently stayed at St. John's. Although there was an extra guest room the boys (at different times) stayed on the couch in Tom's study."
The documents show that former top Archdiocese deputy the Rev. Kevin McDonough gave inaccurate information to a family victimized by a Catholic priest.
In a Dec. 11, 2002 letter, McDonough apologized to the family. "While I do not think that Archdiocesan leaders knew about Tom Stitts' abusive behavior while he was alive, I know that we have heard at least two very credible reports since his death," he wrote.
It's not clear whether McDonough knew of the earlier allegations.
Stitts served at St. Matthew in St. Paul from 1961 to 1964, Our Lady of Grace in Edina from 1964 to 1965, Guardian Angels in Hastings from 1965 to 1969, Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul in 1969, St. Leo the Great in St. Paul from 1969 to 1972, St. George in Long Lake from 1972 to 1979 and St. John the Baptist from 1979 to 1984, according to church records.