Out Of Context
2:38 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

St. Louis Catholic Church Defends Archbishop Carlson

The St. Louis Archdiocese is blasting the notion that Archbishop Robert Carlson did not know child sexual abuse was a crime during his 24 years of service in Minnesota, saying statements he made to that effect in a deposition were taken out of context.

On Monday, attorneys suing the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in a child sexual assault case there posted excerpts from Carlson's five-hour deposition. In one clip, attorney Jeff Anderson asks Carlson, "Archbishop, you knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid?"  

"I'm not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not," Carlson replies. "I understand today it is a crime."

The statement sparked a wide-ranging, national uproar. But Charles Goldberg, a Denver-based attorney who attended the deposition on Carlson's behalf, says a close reading of the deposition's full transcript makes it clear that Carlson believed he was being asked about whether he knew it was a crime to not report child sexual abuse to the police.

The archbishop, Goldberg says, has been among the leaders in speaking out against the child sexual abuse scandal that has been rocking the Catholic church for more than a decade.

"This is a man as early as 1980 recognizing that this deviant behavior has no place in the Catholic church," Goldberg said in a hastily arranged conference call on Wednesday. "And that has been his stance from that day to this and probably before then."

Goldberg's argument was repeated by the Archdiocese in a statement released earlier on Wednesday.

"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. Nothing could be further from the truth. ... 

When the Archbishop said 'I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,' he was simply referring to the fact that he did not know the year that clergy became mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse."

The full transcript of the deposition can be found on the website of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

David Clohessy, the national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said his group was less disturbed by what Carlson said in the deposition than what it was revealed he didn't do. 

Protestors with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests react on June 11 to a deposition given by Archbishop Robert Carlson in a child sexual abuse case in Minneapolis.
Protestors with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests react on June 11 to a deposition given by Archbishop Robert Carlson in a child sexual abuse case in Minneapolis.
Credit (Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)

"We're worried less about when he knew that child sexual abuse was a crime," Clohessy said. "The fact that he not once in almost a quarter-century called the police even when predators admitted molesting kids, we find that very, very troublesome."

In the deposition, Carlson says he told at least one family to report their concerns about a particular priest to the police, but never says if he called police to report his own suspicions.

The archbishop is not a party  to the Minneapolis civil case for which he was deposed, but he is named in a civil lawsuit in St. Louis against Joseph Ross, the former priest at St. Cronan and the first priest ever defrocked in the Archdiocese. The plaintiff in that case is arguing that the Archdiocese of St. Louis engaged in a pattern of covering up abuse claims. It's set for trial in July.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann