Former church chancellor reveals little in deposition

Archbishop Robert Carlson
St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson -- who served in the Twin Cities for 24 years -- revealed little in a May deposition about the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis' handling of clergy sex abuse. He testified that he wasn't sure whether he knew it was illegal for priests to have sex with children when he served as chancellor of the Twin Cities archdiocese in the 1980s.
AP/File 2009

Updated: 5:00 p.m. | Posted: 11:00 a.m.

St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson — who served in the Twin Cities for 24 years — testified last month that he wasn't sure whether he knew it was illegal for priests to have sex with children when he served as chancellor of the Twin Cities archdiocese in the 1980s, according to a transcript released Monday.

Explore the full investigation Clergy abuse, cover-up and crisis in the Twin Cities Catholic church

The former chancellor also said he couldn't recall reporting abuse to police while here from 1970 to 1994.

Carlson, 69, testified as part of a lawsuit that alleges the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona created a public nuisance by keeping information on abusive priests secret. The man who filed the suit claims he was sexually abused by the Rev. Thomas Adamson in the 1970s.

The case has already forced the depositions of Archbishop John Nienstedt, former Archbishop Harry Flynn and other top officials. It also required church officials to make public the names of abusive priests and turn over more than 60,000 pages of internal documents to the plaintiff's attorneys.

Carlson also faces a massive clergy abuse lawsuit in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where he's served since 2009. The case, set for trial in July, involves a similarly aggressive fight over the release of documents and the names of offenders dating back decades. One document made public in the case shows that more than 100 priests and church employees have been accused of abuse, and the Missouri Supreme Court has ordered the archdiocese to turn over the names of abusers under seal.

Latest deposition reveals little

Nearly three decades ago, Carlson was at the center of a scandal involving abuse by Adamson, a priest of the Winona diocese who continued to abuse children when he moved to the Twin Cities archdiocese.

Victims' attorney Jeff Anderson shocked parishioners in 1987 when he revealed that Winona Bishop Loras Watters and Twin Cities Archbishop John Roach knew of allegations against Adamson and failed to call police.

Memos made public in 1987 showed that Carlson had met with Adamson on Roach's behalf and that Adamson had admitted to some of the abuse. Carlson also met with the parents of victim Greg Riedle and warned Roach in a 1984 memo: "The statute of limitations does not run out for 2 1/2 years. The mother and father are considering reporting this to police." Roach responded by transferring Adamson to a new parish.

The scandal led to landmark financial settlements in the late 1980s and early 1990s for several Adamson victims. More victims have come forward since then.

Anderson had already questioned Carlson about Adamson at least four times in the 1980s. The latest deposition offered little new information.

Carlson said he could no longer recall most details of the Adamson case. "You're asking me to tell you under oath what I did 32 or 30 years ago, and it would be impossible for me to do that with any accuracy, especially when you have documents that would spell that out," he said in one exchange, typical of many others.

He professed little memory of his conversation with Adamson. "The one thing I can say clearly is whatever action I took, I always reported it to the archbishop," he said.

"Did you ever ask Adamson if he had sexually abused kids?" Anderson asked.

"I assume I did, but if I did, there'd be a document that would state that," Carlson said.

Carlson noted that he had opposed reassigning Adamson to a parish after he was accused of sexually abusing a child in 1984. His opposition led Roach to remove him from the case, he said.

"For sure, I was taken off that one and maybe others," Carlson said. "I was not very popular."

Anderson asked, "Who besides the archbishop ... who else were you not popular with?"

"I don't know. You would have to ask them," Carlson said.

Carlson also defended his memo to Roach about the statute of limitations. He said he wasn't warning Roach of the need to protect Adamson from criminal prosecution. Instead, he said he thinks he merely transcribed what the parents or the victim's therapist told him.

Carlson said he couldn't remember how many other reports of clergy sexual abuse he received while serving in the Twin Cities archdiocese. Memos reviewed by MPR News show that he handled several other abuse cases while serving as chancellor.

He also said he never talked to Roach's successor about the handling of clergy sexual abuse complaints. Roach died in 2003. "The only communication I've had with Harry Flynn was inviting him to be on a committee three years ago, and he never came," he said.

Carlson left the Twin Cities to become the coadjutor bishop of Sioux Falls in 1994 and became the bishop there the following year before his appointment in 2004 as bishop of Saginaw, Mich. He was named archbishop of St. Louis in 2009.

Carlson denies cover-up

Carlson blamed therapists for providing bad advice on whether priests had been cured of their sexual interest in children. "I don't think there was a cover-up, but I don't think people had the knowledge at the time, and in many ways, we were the victims of those we sent people to for treatment," he said. "I didn't like that, but that's the way it was."

"Don't you think the archdiocese made a grievous mistake in trying to minimize publicity and posture itself in the way it did?" Anderson asked.

"I think counselors made mistakes," Carlson said. "I think people in general made mistakes. I think the Archdiocese made mistakes."

When Carlson continued to claim no memory of key events, Anderson pulled out a transcript of a 1986 deposition of Watters, the former Winona bishop.

Watters, who died in 2009, had testified that Carlson advised him that "the best thing you can say (in depositions) is, 'I don't remember.'"

Carlson disagreed with Watters' account. "I don't remember having this discussion. I don't think I ever said that," he said. "The only advice I would have given, would give anybody, is to talk to your attorney."

The case is set for trial in September.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a statement after the deposition was released, saying, "[W]hile not being able to recall his knowledge of the law exactly as it was many decades ago, the Archbishop did make clear that he knows child sex abuse is a crime today. The question does not address the Archbishop's moral stance on the sin of pedophilia, which has been that it is a most egregious offense."

A spokesman for the Twin Cities archdiocese declined to comment.

Deposition: Archbishop Robert Carlson