From former Twin Cities bishop: 193 ‘don’t recalls’Published 2:21pm Tuesday, June 10, 2014
St. Louis official’s amnesia over abuse is willful, lawyer says
By Emily Gurnon
St. Paul Pioneer Press
ST. PAUL — A former Twin Cities bishop who now leads the St. Louis Archdiocese responded 193 times in a court-ordered deposition that he could not remember details about priest child sexual abuse during his tenure.
The Rev. Robert James Carlson served from 1979 to 1994 as a top handler for priest abuse cases in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to attorney Jeffrey Anderson.
Anderson represents victims of childhood sexual abuse, including Doe 1, a man who sued in May 2013 alleging he was molested by former priest Thomas Adamson while he served in St. Paul Park.
“He doesn’t remember anything about what he did,” Anderson said about Carlson at a Monday news conference in his St. Paul office.
“The sad and sorrowful thing is the victims of these abuses that had been concealed for so long by so many trusted figures have to remember,” he said.
The Twin Cities archdiocese, as well as Anderson’s office, posted Carlson’s deposition on its website Monday.
Carlson gave a court-ordered deposition May 23 as part of the lawsuit by Doe 1 against Adamson, the archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona. The plaintiff alleges that church officials created a “public nuisance” by moving Adamson from parish to parish despite allegations of child sexual abuse.
Carlson explained in the deposition that he took notes on “everything” and said he would have to review old documents to refresh his memory and answer questions accurately.
At one point, Carlson’s attorney, Charles Goldberg, objected to Anderson’s questions. He pointed out that Anderson had deposed Carlson on several other occasions. (Anderson said he’s done so 15 times.) More than 30 exhibits had been produced for those depositions, Goldberg said.
In fairness to Carlson, “if you want to ask him about these things and get specific answers, he needs to see these documents, because no human being can be expected to remember, regardless of how outrageous some of these matters may have appeared, to explain in detail those things to you without a reference to these depositions 25 to 30 years ago,” Goldberg said.
Was there any illness or injury that might explain a memory problem? Anderson asked.
“Obviously, I can’t make either a psychological or a physical diagnosis, other than to say I have had seven cancer surgeries,” Carlson said. “Each time I received some kind of chemical to put me out for that. If that’s impeded my memory or not, I have no idea.”
The matter is so important, he said, that “I would not want to respond unless I can see what I said (previously).”
Anderson pointed to the 1986 deposition of then-Winona Bishop Loras Watters — involving another Adamson lawsuit — to illustrate what he said was Carlson’s willful “amnesia.”
Anderson asked Watters whom he had consulted before the deposition. Among others, he talked to Carlson — who had already been deposed on that case, Watters said.
“I guess, Bishop Carlson, after I received his deposition, I said, ‘Is that as tough as it looks like?’ you know.”
Anderson asked, “Is it?”
Watters said, “He said the best thing you can say is, ‘I don’t remember.’ ”
Carlson said in his May deposition that he didn’t think he said that, and “I don’t think he would have ever called me.”
One thing Carlson did remember was that he did not personally make a report to police of alleged sexual abuse by a priest.
“On several occasions … I encouraged the people, if they wanted to, to report it to the police.”
By “the people,” he was referring to parents of victims.
Anderson asked whether Carlson knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child.
“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” he said. “I understand today it’s a crime.”
He said he did not remember when he first knew it was a crime for an adult or a priest to have sex with a minor.
Did he know as of 1984? Anderson asked. “I’m not sure if I did or didn’t,” Carlson said.
That response came after Anderson had reviewed with Carlson a July 9, 1984, memo he had sent to his boss, then-Archbishop John Roach. In the memo, Carlson described a meeting he and the Rev. Kevin McDonough had with Adamson about allegations from an inmate at the St. Cloud Reformatory that Adamson had abused him when he was a boy.
“I informed Father Adamson that it is highly probable that this will be reported to the Washington County Attorney,” Carlson wrote. He recommended Adamson hire a criminal attorney.
Carlson also recommended in the memo that “given the seriousness of our exposure, that the Archdiocese posture itself in such a way that any publicity will be minimized.”
Carlson, a native of Minneapolis, was ordained in 1970. He served on the archdiocese’s personnel board, which made recommendations to the archbishop about priest assignments, from 1973 to 1976. In 1979, he was appointed chancellor, a top adviser to the archbishop. In 1984, he became vicar general and auxiliary bishop and served in those positions until 1994. He was installed as archbishop in St. Louis in 2009.
Anderson also deposed Carlson last month in another case, which is scheduled to go to trial in July.
Former priest Joseph Ross is accused of sexually abusing a woman when she was 5 or 6 years old between 1997 and 2001.