A suit seeking at least $50,000 in damages and release of a list of priests “credibly accused” of molesting children was filed Wednesday against the Diocese of Winona, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and Thomas Adamson, a former priest in both.
The suit, filed in Ramsey County District Court, was brought on behalf of a 51-year-old anonymous plaintiff. The plaintiff claims that between 1976 and 1977 “Adamson engaged in unpermitted sexual contact” with the plaintiff while he was assigned to St. Thomas Aquinas parish in St. Paul Park.
The plaintiff’s lawyer, Jeff Anderson, announced the suit at a news conference Wednesday in St. Paul, where he said the suit seeks to rectify “the repeated abuse and sordid saga of cover-up by both dioceses of the abuse by Thomas Adamson.”
“The suit seeks something much more than accountability and a day in court,” he said in a recording of the conference posted online, adding that it hopes to require the diocese and archdiocese to “come clean and come forth with the lists of credibly accused offenders that they have and continue to hold secret.”
The Diocese of Winona declined to comment Wednesday but released a three-paragraph statement that said that it “is committed to the protection of children and the safe environment of our parishes and schools,” and that it “works vigorously and has taken extraordinary measures to ensure that all of the schools, parishes and programs administered in the Diocese” adhere to the Church’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis released a similar, three-paragraph statement Wednesday that added:
“We believe that the abuse of young people is always a tragedy, and a social problem that should be confronted by all sectors of society.”
Adamson, now 78 and believed to be living in Rochester, was not able to be reached for comment. Last year the Diocese of Winona barred him from all diocese parishes and schools.
Adamson was ordained a priest for the Winona Diocese in 1958 and served in parishes there until 1975, when he was transferred to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The plaintiff was an altar boy and active in youth activities at St. Thomas Aquinas when he encountered Adamson, the complaint said, but does not include further details of the alleged abuse.
The complaint claims that church officials had been aware that Adamson had sexually abused boys as early as 1964, when Bishop Edward Fitzgerald “learned or should have learned” that Adamson had been abusing boys while assigned to St. John’s parish in Caledonia.
Despite this knowledge, and further knowledge of repeated incidents of abuse committed by Adamson, church officials continued to assign him to positions where he could gain the trust of young boys and their families and continue the pattern of abuse.
Adamson never faced criminal abuse charges — the statute of limitations had expired — but was named in at least three suits settled out of court, and a fourth suit brought against the diocese and archdiocese was decided in favor of the complainant.
The complaint further seeks the public release of a list of 46 priests who are “credibly accused” of abuse but not publicly identified.
Concealing their identities is “a grave peril to our children,” Anderson said.
First test of new law
Anderson brought the suit shortly after the state Legislature approved and Gov. Mark Dayton signed the Minnesota Child Victims Act into law, and it’s believed to be the first filed under the new law.
It removes the civil statute of limitations for child victims of sexual abuse. Previously, the state required victims to file suit against an alleged abuser within six years of becoming a legal adult — by age 24.
That statute was an issue for men like Jim Keenan, who also spoke at Wednesday’s news conference.
Keenen successfully sued the diocese and archdiocese a number of years ago, claiming Thomas Adamson abused him between 1980 and 1982 while Adamson served at a church in the suburban Twin Cities. But the case was later overturned because the statute of limitations had passed.