Media coverage of St. Louis archbishop criticized as 'misleading'
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

.- The Archdiocese of St. Louis criticized “inaccurate and misleading” reports suggesting that Archbishop Robert Carlson did not know sexual relations with children were illegal; the archdiocese said his deposition responses were instead focused on mandatory reporting laws.

“Contrary to what is being reported, Archbishop Carlson is and has been a leader in the Church when it comes to recognizing and managing matters of sexual abuse involving the clergy,” the archdiocese said June 11.

It highlighted his 1980 letter on a sexually abusive priest in which he said “this behavior cannot be tolerated.”

On June 9, attorney Jeff Anderson released a videotaped deposition of the St. Louis archbishop concerning damages for a Minnesota lawsuit involving allegations of a sexually abusive priest in the 1980s. Archbishop Carlson was an auxiliary bishop and chancellor of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul at the time.

The archdiocese said that although Anderson, the plaintiff’s lawyer, made several questions at the deposition concerning whether the archbishop knew sexual relations between a minor and an adult were against the law at the time, the archbishop’s answers were referring to the previous question. That question concerned whether he knew Minnesota’s child abuse reporting law and whether he knew that clergy were mandatory abuse reporters.

“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 archdiocese said.

Archbishop Carlson’s attorney, Charles Goldberg, had objected to Anderson’s sudden shift from mandatory reporting laws to laws criminalizing sexual relations with minors.

Anderson, who has won judgments of hundreds of millions of dollars through sex abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church, released an excerpt of the video on June 9.

The video showed the archbishop responding “I don’t remember” to several of Anderson’s questions about whether he knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sexual relations with a minor.

The archdiocese said that the plaintiff’s lawyer “strategically took Archbishop Carlson’s response to a question out of context.”

The excerpted video was widely viewed and prompted many responses.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch’s editorial board published a harshly critical editorial contending that the archbishop used “slippery language” that is normally used by “lawyered-up mobsters, politicians or Wall Street fraudsters.”

It criticized what it described as the archbishop’s inability to remember his actions and thoughts in the 1980s, suggesting that if the archbishop can’t remember, “he should resign and seek treatment for Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.”

However, the Archdiocese of St. Louis said that the archbishop “had repeatedly requested and was denied the ability to review case documents pertaining to the questions asked of him” and is “now being maligned for his inability to recall certain events.”

Bill Donohue of the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights on June 11 charged that the video clip was “rigged by Anderson to make the archbishop look as if he didn't know it was a crime for an adult to have sex with a kid.”

Donohue said that the news media “led by the Post-Dispatch, published Anderson’s propaganda as if it were true.”

“It is obvious that the media never independently verified Anderson's selective account,” he said.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis said that the archbishop is not a party in the case and did not commit any crime. He previously gave depositions concerning the case at least three times in the 1980s.

“He has not only voluntarily participated in this legal process, he has offered his testimony as clearly and thoughtfully as possible, given both the span of time in which this discovery process has taken place and accessibility to certain documents,” the archdiocese said.

The archdiocese said the reporting on the deposition and the controversy has “impugned Archbishop Carlson’s good name and reputation.”

Tags: Child abuse

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