St. Louis archdiocese: Reporting on deposition 'has impugned Archbishop Carlson's good name'

Archbishop Robert Carlson
St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson served in the Twin Cities for 24 years. He rose to his current position in 2009.
AP/File 2009

In a deposition released Monday, St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson said he wasn't sure whether he knew it was illegal for adults to have sex with children when he served as chancellor of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in the 1980s.

• Related: Former church chancellor reveals little in deposition (June 9, 2014)

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

But the Archdiocese of St. Louis is contesting news coverage of Carlson's testimony. In a news release issued Wednesday morning, the archdiocese claimed "recent inaccurate and misleading reporting by certain media outlets has impugned Archbishop Carlson's good name and reputation."

• Archdiocese of St. Louis: Response to coverage of Carlson's deposition

Carlson, 69 — who served from 1970 to 1994 in the Twin Cities archdiocese — was questioned under oath last month 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.

In its Wednesday news release, the Archdiocese of St. Louis pointed specifically to two exchanges in the deposition, involving St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who is representing the plaintiff in the case, Carlson and Carlson's attorney, Charles Goldberg. The St. Louis archdiocese says the dialogue involved Carlson's knowledge of Minnesota child abuse reporting statutes, and when clergy became mandatory reporters of abuse allegations — not the legality of an adult having sex with a child.

"During a press conference held on June 9, 2014, Plaintiff's lawyer strategically took Archbishop Carlson's response to a question out of context and suggested that the Archbishop did not know that it was a criminal offense for an adult to molest a child," the St. Louis archdiocese's statement said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

The St. Louis archdiocese didn't dispute reporting on Carlson's testimony in its first public response to the story Monday afternoon. In fact, the archdiocese appeared to underscore Carlson's testimony that he might not have known it is illegal for an adult to have sex with a child.

"In this most recent deposition, while 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," spokesperson Gabe Jones said in an emailed statement.

That earlier statement made no mention of mandated reporting.

MPR News reported on Carlson's testimony Monday in its coverage of the deposition's release.

In the first exchange cited by the St. Louis archdiocese, Carlson is asked if he considered himself to be a mandated reporter. The question arose in the context of victim Greg Riedle, a meeting with whose parents Carlson discussed in a 1984 memo to then-Archbishop John Roach:

Jeff Anderson: Okay. That's what appeared to me, but I wanted to ask you. You go on to write, "The mother and father are considering reporting this to the police." What led you to write that?

Archbishop Robert Carlson: Either the parents or Mr. Ringsmuth told me that.

Anderson: And did you report this to the police?

Carlson: I did not.

Anderson: Why not?

Carlson: It didn't occur to me it was my responsibility. This was a counselor from the prison.

Anderson: Did you consider yourself to be a mandatory reporter?

Carlson: No.

Anderson:Did you ever consider yourself to be a mandated reporter while in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis?

Carlson: No.

Later in his testimony, after an hourlong break and dozens of questions covering memos Carlson had sent, intentions of the archdiocese and matters of responsibility in the matter, Carlson addresses whether or not he knew that adults engaging in sex with children was a crime.

A direct excerpt from the deposition transcript:

Jeff Anderson: You had earlier said that you felt that the archdiocese made mistakes in the handling of this priest and others, but you seem to attribute more responsibility on the therapist. Do you think that the therapist, upon which you relied, either at the Service of Paracletes (sic), Ken Pierre, Gendron or others that appear in this record, bear as much or more responsibility than the archdiocesan officials who made the choices they did?

Archbishop Carlson: I think if you go back in history, I think the whole culture did not know what they were dealing with. I think therapists didn't. I don't think we fully understood. I don't think public school administrators understood it. I don't think we realized it was the serious problem it is.

Anderson: Well, mandatory reporting laws went into effect across the nation in 1973, archbishop.

Charles Goldberg: I'm going to object to the form of that quesion.

Anderson: Let me finish the question.

Goldberg: Go ahead. I'm sorry.

Anderson: And you knew at all times, while a priest, having been ordained in 1970, it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid. You knew that, right?

Goldberg: I'm going to object to the form of that question now. You're talking about mandatory reporting.

Anderson: Okay. I'll — if you don't like the question, I'll ask another question.

Goldberg: Well, you've asked a conjunctive question. One doesn't —

Anderson: Objection heard. I'll ask another question. Okay?

Goldberg: Go ahead.

Anderson: Archbishop, you knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid?

Carlson: I'm not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not. I understand today it's a crime.

Anderson: When did you first discern that it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid?

Carlson: I don't remember.

Anderson: When did you first discern that it was a crime for a priest to engage in sex with a kid who he had under his control?

Carlson: I don't remember that, either.

Anderson: Do you have any doubt in your mind that you knew that in the '70s?

Carlson: I don't remember if I did or didn't.

Anderson: In 1984, you are a bishop in the — an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. You knew it was a crime then, right?

Carlson: I'm not sure if I did or didn't.

The release of Carlson's testimony in the Minnesota case Monday has garnered significant attention and news coverage in St. Louis. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an editorial Tuesday evening questioning Carlson's inability to remember specifics from his time as chancellor in the Twin Cities. "He has utterly squandered his credibility," it said.

An excerpt:

"In 1984, then-Bishop Carlson was 39 years old. It defies belief that a sophisticated, well-educated man in the United States could get to be 39 years old without knowing that it's against the law for adults to have sex with children.

As reported by Lilly Fowler at stltoday.com on Monday and in Tuesday's Post-Dispatch, on 193 occasions during the course of the May 23 deposition, Archbishop Carlson claimed not to remember the answers to Mr. Anderson's questions."

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.

Members of two groups — the Association for the Rights of Catholics and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — have planned a vigil today in front of St. Louis' Cathedral Basilica at 2 p.m. to protest Carlson's comments.

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

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.