Archbishop Robert Carlson: Old Files Shed Light on Long History of Handling Sex Abuse Scandals

click to enlarge Archbishop Robert Carlson. - Geerlingguy photo via
Geerlingguy photo via
Archbishop Robert Carlson.

In July, a local family filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of St. Louis, alleging that Archbishop Robert Carlson attempted to cover up a priest's sex abuse and tamper with evidence in the process. This suit, surrounding Father Xiu Hui "Joseph" Jiang, was filed after Carlson was subpoenaed in the criminal investigation of Jiang (who is accused of repeatedly molesting a teenage girl in her home). As the case moves forward this month, victims' rights groups are arguing that Carlson's inadequate response reflects a long history of mishandling abuse allegations.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), an advocacy group based in St. Louis, has provided Daily RFT with newly released documents from 1984 relating to a case at the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, involving then bishop Carlson. The letters, the group argues, shed light on his decades of direct experience with these kinds of cases and repeated efforts to downplay abuse.

"It's the antithesis of what a caring shepherd should do," says David Clohessy, SNAP executive director.

See also: St. Louis Archdiocese Cancels Event to Pray for "Exoneration" of Priest Accused of Sex Abuse

The files are noteworthy because they offer a rare glimpse into a top church official's direct statements and response on sex abuse allegations and they also highlight just how long Carlson has dealt with these kinds of controversies -- a history which, Clohessy says, should better inform his efforts today.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis, however, is strongly pushing back against the criticisms of SNAP, offering Daily RFT a lengthy statement (full response on view below) defending Carlson's record on these matters and arguing that he has been a national leader in this area and a "voice for transparency in clergy sex abuse cases." Church officials say his work is still a model today and that he deserves credit, as an Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis official puts it, for taking steps in the 1980s to "break the culture of clerical secrecy in our Archdiocese."

Joseph Jiang's mug shot.
Joseph Jiang's mug shot.

The documents relate to Father Thomas Adamson, a Minnesota priest who is accused of child sex abuse and who was allegedly transferred between numerous parishes where he worked with children even after reportedly confessing the abuse to Diocese officials. These documents -- file on view below -- were released as part of a recent legal battle.

In a July 9, 1984 memo, Carlson writes to the Archbishop about the case:

In the counseling process at St. Cloud, it has become evident that [redacted] was also sexually abused from 1972 to 1982. I asked Father Adamson about this and he admitted and, in fact, he had abused the boy during that period of time. I did not go into the sexual activity, but Father Adamson agreed that it probably would be first degree criminal sexual contact.

Carlson explains in the letter that he recommended specific criminal attorneys for Adamson (which he would have to pay for).

Archbishop Robert Carlson. - via Missouri Catholic Conference
Archbishop Robert Carlson.

Carlson then writes (emphasis ours):

It is my recommendation, given the seriousness of our exposure, that the Archdiocese posture itself in such a way that any publicity will be minimized. I would recommend that in cooperating with Bishop Watters, that Father Adamson be sent to the Paracletes in Albuquerque or to the House of Affirmation. It is obvious to me in dealing with Father Adamson at this time that he has little remorse other than the fact that we found something else out and completely minimizes the entire situation.

Clohessy says that this is another instance of church officials trying to minimize bad press of an abuse scandal. "The first question should be, how do we find out whether he's hurt other kids and how do we help them? And how do we stop him from doing it again?"

The documents more broadly reveal "how much church leaders knew about Adamson and how little they did to stop him," Clohessy says.

Continue for more commentary from SNAP and for the full Archdiocese response.

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