First lawsuit filed under new sex abuse law

Lawsuit filed
Attorney Jeff Anderson, right, at a news conference at his St. Paul office on Wednesday, May 29, 2013, announces a lawsuit against the Catholic Church seeking the release of a list of names of priests suspected of child sexual abuse. From left, Mike Finnegan, attorney at Jeff Anderson & Associates; retired Winona priest Fr. James Fitzpatrick, who says the diocese covered up child sexual abuse by another priest for decades; Jim Keenan, of Savage, Minn., who filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis that was dismissed by the Minnesota Supreme Court last year because of the statute of limitations.
MPR Photo/Madeleine Baran

St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson has filed the first lawsuit under a new Minnesota law that allows victims of child sexual abuse to bring claims decades later.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Ramsey County District Court on behalf of an unnamed 51-year-old man, accuses the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona of negligence for allowing a known pedophile to continue working with children for years.

The plaintiff, identified as "Doe 1," seeks a court order to force the church to release an internal list of "credibly accused child molesting priests," and accuses the church of creating a public nuisance by keeping the names secret.

The man also seeks more than $50,000 from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, the Diocese of Winona and former priest and alleged abuser Thomas Adamson.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

The lawsuit accuses church authorities of covering up allegations of sexual abuse by Adamson as far back as 1964.

In some cases, Adamson admitted to the abuse but was allowed to continue working with children, the lawsuit said. The abuse of "Doe 1" allegedly took place in 1976 and 1977 while Adamson served as a priest at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in St. Paul Park.

"Children, including Plaintiff, and their families were not told what Defendants knew or should have known -- that Adamson had sexually molested dozens of boys, admitted to molesting boys, that he committed offenses at almost every parish he served, and that Adamson was a danger to them," the lawsuit says.

Adamson, who has been the focus of several past lawsuits for alleged abuse but has never faced criminal charges, could not be reached for an interview. The lawsuit claims Adamson avoided criminal charges because the Catholic Church failed to report the abuse to police.

The Diocese of Winona and the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis declined to comment on the lawsuit. Both groups released statements highlighting current church efforts to keep children safe.

"The Diocese of Winona works vigorously and has taken extraordinary measures to ensure that all of the schools, parishes and programs administered in the Diocese adhere to the Charter to ensure that those entrusted to our care are safe," the diocese statement said.

Anderson said the Catholic Church needs to release the names of abusive priests if it wants to protect children. The list includes at least 46 priests who worked in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona in the past 50 years, he said.

Anderson requested the same list in 2009, as part of a similar lawsuit brought on behalf of Jim Keenan, another Minnesota man who said he was sexually abused by Adamson as a child. The request was rejected by a Ramsey County judge who expressed concern about damage to priests who have not been charged or convicted. The case reached the Minnesota Supreme Court last year, where it was thrown out because Keenan was too old to sue.

At the time, state law required child sexual abuse victims file lawsuits by age 24. The Child Victims Act, signed by Gov. Mark Dayton last week, gives older victims of child sexual abuse three years to sue their abusers and any institutions that failed to protect them. It removes all time limits for new victims to file lawsuits.

Keenan, who is now 45 years old, attended the news conference at Anderson's law firm Wednesday. He said he hopes the new lawsuit will force the church to release the names of abusive priests. In his own case, Keenan said, he refused to accept a monetary settlement with the Catholic Church unless it released the names.

"I don't understand why an institution that prides itself on morality, that teaches right and wrong, continues to operate wrong, and they do it with, apparently, gusto," Keenan said. "They spend a lot of time and effort to protect this list."