‘Humiliated’ Twin Cities archdiocese settles abuse lawsuit with landmark agreement

ST. PAUL -- Attorneys for sexual abuse victims stood alongside Catholic Church officials Monday in downtown St. Paul to announce the settlement of a sweeping lawsuit and a landmark agreement for future child protection.

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Rev. Charles Lachowitzer, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis speaks, as attorney Jeff Anderson, left, listens, as Anderson's law firm, church representatives and survivors of Catholic Church sex abuse met together to announce a new child protection plan, in St. Paul, on Monday, October 13, 2014. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

ST. PAUL -- Attorneys for sexual abuse victims stood alongside Catholic Church officials Monday in downtown St. Paul to announce the settlement of a sweeping lawsuit and a landmark agreement for future child protection.

“We’ve come here together today because we’ve forged a new way,” said plaintiff’s attorney Jeff Anderson, who said the agreement was a first in his 30 years of filing suits on behalf of those abused by priests. “That new way is an action plan. It not only protects kids in the future, it honors the grief and sorrows of survivors of abuse.”

Yet the pending resolution of many sexual abuse claims now before the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis may result in bankruptcy, Vicar General Charles Lachowitzer acknowledged.

“We have all of our options on the table,” said Lachowitzer, who is the archbishop’s top deputy. Bankruptcy “sure would be” one of those, as the two sides work out restitution for the victims, he said.

Tim O’Malley, director of ministerial standards and safe environment for the archdiocese, also said the archdiocese would release “in the near future” additional names of priests accused of abuse.


Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North signed an order Monday morning dismissing the case of John Doe 1, exactly three weeks before it was set to go to trial. The order followed a meeting among the judge and the parties in his chambers.

Doe 1 sued the archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona in May 2013, alleging that former priest Thomas Adamson abused him when he was a boy.

Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said at the news conference that Archbishop John Nienstedt, who approved of the agreement, wanted to be present but was visiting the sister diocese of Kitui, Kenya, where he confirmed 200 young people Sunday. He is due back Tuesday.

Cozzens apologized to the victims of sexual abuse.

“I do want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry it happened. It shouldn’t have happened,” he said.

A former courtroom at the Landmark Center was standing-room-only Monday afternoon with abuse survivors, attorneys, media and onlookers.

“We are humiliated,” Lachowitzer told the crowd. “Yet we are humbled by the grace of God to be here today.”

Financial terms of the settlement are confidential, per the wishes of the plaintiff. But the parties agreed to what Anderson called a new set of “protocols … to ensure transparency and child protection.”


“As part of this historic settlement, 17 child-protection protocols have been implemented by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona,” Anderson said.

The settlement deal was brokered by Charlie Rogers, of the law firm Briggs and Morgan, representing the archdiocese, officials said.

Nienstedt said in a written statement emailed to priests Monday that the joint agreement “is a historic moment in our efforts to assure the safety of children and vulnerable adults.”

The new protocols were drawn up by both sides, the archbishop said.

They include:

  • By March 2015, each clergy member will turn in a signed statement saying he has not abused any minor at any time and does not know of any other priest who has done so who has not been reported.
  • When the archdiocese receives a report of child sexual abuse and makes a mandatory report to police, it will not conduct its own investigation or interfere with police until law enforcement officials finish theirs.
  • The archdiocese will not recommend any clergy for an active ministry position, or a position where he has access to minors, if he has a pending “credible or previously substantiated claim” of abuse of a minor. A “credible” claim is defined as “not manifestly false or frivolous.”
  • If a survivor with a credible claim requests it, the archbishop will send a “personally signed letter of apology.”
  • The archdiocese will disclose to other dioceses or private employers any accusation of sexual abuse by a current or former priest, to the extent allowed by federal and state law.

Victims step forward

At one point in the news conference, Anderson asked all abuse survivors who were willing to come to the front the room. More than 20 stepped forward. Cozzens and Lachowitzer walked down the line of mostly male survivors and shook their hands. A few survivors reached out to embrace the officials. Many wiped away tears.


Through the Doe 1 lawsuit, Anderson leveraged the disclosure of more than 50,000 pages of clergy personnel documents from the church, as well as sworn testimony of Nienstedt, former Archbishop Harry Flynn, former Vicars General Kevin McDonough and Peter Laird, and Robert Carlson, formerly with the Twin Cities archdiocese and now archbishop of St. Louis.

The lawsuit alleged the archdiocese and diocese had created a “public nuisance” by concealing information about Adamson and moving him from parish to parish as his alleged crimes came to light.

Judge Van de North agreed in September to hear the nuisance claim, which church officials opposed. The trial was to start Nov. 3.

In December 2013, citing the public nuisance claim, Van de North forced disclosure by the archdiocese and diocese of priests the church considered “credibly accused” of child sexual abuse.

In addition, the judge ordered the church to release sealed files of priests accused of child sexual abuse that the archdiocese and diocese in some cases consider to be unsubstantiated.

Adamson, now 81 and living in Rochester, worked in both the Twin Cities and the Winona diocese. He was never charged with a crime but was removed from active practice as a priest in 1985 and ousted from the priesthood in 2009.

Doe 1 is a Twin Cities man who alleged that Adamson molested him while Adamson served at St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park in the late 1970s. His was one of more than 30 lawsuits filed since the Minnesota Child Victims Act was passed in May 2013. The law opened a three-year window for victims of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits against their abusers, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.

Doe 1 said in a letter to Lachowitzer that “the sincerity I felt on Wednesday afternoon (in a settlement meeting) from yourself, Charlie Rogers and Tim O’Malley surprised me and gave me great hope for the future.”


Another man who survived sexual abuse by Adamson said Monday he had been to past news conferences of Anderson’s - and always found himself asking why it was so hard for the church to “do the right thing.”

“I never dreamed of a day when I’d look over my shoulder and see two priests at one of these things,” Jim Keenan said, referring to Lachowitzer and Cozzens. “This is a good day.”

Secret club

Adamson invited him into a secret club in which Keenan was his golfing buddy and his racquetball partner. He could go to places inside the church where other kids couldn’t, he said. “Nobody knew the price you had to pay to get into that club. It was an ugly price.”

Diocese of Winona Bishop John M. Quinn was in Rome on Monday and unable to attend the news conference, but he participated in the settlement negotiations, said spokesman Joel Hennessy.

“We are ashamed of the horrific crimes that Thomas Adamson has perpetrated against children in our diocese and in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis,” Quinn said in a written statement. He said most of the protocols the diocese agreed upon as part of the settlement were already in place.

O’Malley, former head of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, joined the archdiocese staff on Sept. 15. In the new post of director of ministerial standards and safe environment, he handles sexual abuse allegations and addresses needs of victims.


He said Monday that former state Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Campion also joined the archdiocese beginning Monday. Campion also worked previously with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, O’Malley said.

“The archdiocese is putting in place the right people in the right positions,” O’Malley said.

Anderson thanked whistle-blower Jennifer Haselberger, former chancellor for canonical affairs for the archdiocese, who stood at the back of the room. In a written statement, she called the settlement a “tremendous victory for those concerned with the safety and wellbeing of children and vulnerable adults, and I am grateful to Doe 1 and his attorneys for being so resolute and courageous in pursuing these ends.”

At the same time, she chided the archdiocese for straying from its mission.

“It should never take action from the civil courts to compel a Catholic diocese to act in the public good, especially when doing so requires little more than that we follow Christ’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

Haselberger resigned from the archdiocese in April 2013 in protest of what she said was a widespread mishandling of clergy sexual abuse cases.

In a deposition taken by Anderson on May 16, Adamson said he began abusing children in 1961, when he served at St. Adrian Church in southwest Minnesota. No bishop or other church officials ever asked him how many children he had abused or who they were, he said.


The archdiocese and diocese fought to have the nuisance claim dismissed. Van de North refused.

“The court need look no further than Fathers Adamson and Curtis Wehmeyer as unfortunate examples of the horrendous consequences that can flow from intentional and misguided efforts to protect pedophile priests at the expense of minors,” the judge wrote in his September order.

Wehmeyer was pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in St. Paul when he was arrested in 2012 on suspicion of molesting two young boys of the parish and possessing child pornography. He pleaded guilty in both cases and is serving a five-year prison sentence.

For the past year, Nienstedt has been under fire for his handling of the church abuse crisis after Haselberger began leaking church papers that exposed missteps officials had taken in dealing with abusive priests.

He is currently the subject of an investigation regarding alleged inappropriate sexual behavior with adult men. That investigation continues, the archdiocese said Monday.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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