The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis did not require an abusive priest to give the church the names of every child he sexually assaulted, according to a document obtained by MPR News.
Top church official Rev. Kevin McDonough revealed the archdiocese's decision while responding to a man who reported in 2002 that he had been sexually abused by the Rev. Robert Thurner years earlier.
"I have no record that Father Thurner reported you as a victim, but we have not recently asked him to provide an exhaustive list," McDonough wrote in the letter, dated June 6, 2002. There is no indication that McDonough reported the man's allegation to police. Archdiocesan policy does not require church officials to report abuse to police if the victim is no longer a child.
"I do not know that my search of our records is going to be very satisfying to you," McDonough wrote in the letter. "There may be many things we will never know."
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• Full coverage: Archdiocese under scrutiny
Earlier this week, a woman who said Thurner sexually abused her as a child filed a lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court against the priest and the archdiocese.
The woman said she was sexually abused by the Rev. Robert Thurner at St. Joseph Catholic Church in West St. Paul when she was 7 to 8 years old. She is not named in the complaint, which was brought under a new state law that gives victims more time to sue.
Court records show that top church officials knew of Thurner's sexual abuse as early as 1982, when a mother called Catholic Charities to report abuse of her 16-year-old son. Thurner met with Archbishop John Roach and other church leaders that year and confessed to a "brief sexual relationship" with the boy.
Roach allowed Thurner to remain in ministry despite the abuse. In 1991, Thurner retired and confessed to sexual contact with at least three boys as part of a lawsuit filed by one of the victims. Another victim sued in 1993. Both cases were settled for undisclosed amounts.
The archdiocese has been under scrutiny for weeks following an MPR News investigation that found church leaders failed to notify parishioners of sexual misconduct by a priest who was later convicted for child sexual abuse, did not turn over alleged child pornography to police, and gave special payments to offending priests.
The archdiocese has asked its attorneys at Meier, Kennedy and Quinn in St. Paul to investigate the allegations in the lawsuit filed this week, a spokesperson for the archdiocese said Friday. McDonough did not respond to an interview request, and Thurner could not be reached for comment. Roach died in 2003.
In the 2002 letter to the man who claimed to be among Thurner's victims, McDonough declined to provide details about the priest's abuse of other children, although the information had already been made public in earlier lawsuits.
"I do not see it as appropriate for me to reveal specific details about each of these cases of abuse, just as I would not reveal details to others of your alleged abuse," McDonough wrote.
McDonough told the man he had recently asked Thurner whether he sexually abused him. Thurner denied any memory of it. "I don't know why this is so," McDonough wrote.
McDonough said the archdiocese knew of "four different instances of inappropriate conduct" by Thurner. "One if not two of these cases seemed to involve persons who were 18 years of age or older," he wrote.
THE INITIAL REPORT
Testimony provided as part of the 1991 lawsuit shows that prominent church leaders, including the director of Catholic Charities at the time, did not call police when they received the initial report of abuse in 1982.
Monsignor Jerome Boxleitner, then-director of Catholic Charities, forwarded the report to the archdiocese. Boxleitner testified in 1991 that it didn't occur to him to call police. "I don't know if I looked at it as a criminal matter," he said. "More as a very serious moral issue."
Boxleitner attended a meeting two weeks later in which church officials confronted Thurner. He later called Thurner out of concern for his well-being but did not contact the victim or his family.
"I was trying to unload the thing, frankly," Boxleitner, who died this year, told the court.
Thurner similarly testified that he didn't think of his actions as criminal. "I never really understood the full impact of that from a legal point of view," he said.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 9:37 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1 to include a comment by a spokesman for the archdiocese.