St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson testified last month that he wasn’t sure whether it was illegal for priests to have sex with children while he served as chancellor of the St. Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese.
The former chancellor gave a deposition last month in a lawsuit that claims the Minnesota archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona created a public nuisance by keeping information on abusive priests secret, reported Minnesota Public Radio.
The 69-year-old Carlson also faces a massive clergy abuse lawsuit in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where he’s served as archbishop since 2009.
One document made public in that case shows more than 100 priests and church employees have been accused of sexual abuse, and the Missouri Supreme Court ordered the archdiocese to turn over their names under seal.
The Minnesota lawsuit was filed by a man who claimed a priest abused him during the 1970s, and Carlson told the plaintiff’s attorneys that his understanding of those accusations had changed over the years.
“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson said. “I understand today it’s a crime.”
The accuser’s attorneys asked Carlson whether he knew in 1984, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that it was illegal for priests to have sex with children.
“I’m not sure if I did or didn’t,” Carlson said.
But documents released Monday by St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, the former chancellor showed clearly that he understood sex abuse was a crime when he discussed incidents with church officials during his time in Minnesota.
Carlson discussed the claims of one sex abuse victim and the statute of limitations for such claims in a 1984 letter to John Roach, then the archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a statement saying that Carlson made clear that he understood now that child sex abuse was a crime.
“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,” said spokesman Gabe Jones. “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.”
The former chancellor admitted during the deposition that he encouraged parents at least once to report sex abuse to police, although he never reported such incidents himself.
“I think in everything we do, once we’ve experienced it, we reflect on our actions and we ask what we can do better,” Carlson said. “I think we did a pretty good job. Obviously, based on some 25 years later, I would do it differently.”
Carlson said the archdiocese and “people in general” had made mistakes related to sex abuse by clergy.
“I think if you go back in history, I think the whole culture did not know what they were dealing with,” he said. “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.”