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Ex-priest at center of suit was never asked about sex abuse victims, he says

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Ex-priest at center of suit was never asked about sex abuse victims, he says
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ST. PAUL -- The former priest and admitted pedophile named in a lawsuit that has disgorged thousands of internal church documents said that no bishops or other officials had ever asked him how many children he had abused or who they were.

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Thomas Paul Adamson, now 80 and never charged with a crime, said in a deposition last month that he began abusing children about 1961, while a priest at St. Adrian Church in southwest Minnesota.

Adamson admitted in the May 16 sworn deposition to sexually abusing one child there, a 14-year-old boy, though he was accused by others.

Attorney Jeffrey Anderson asked him to review a list of 37 other accusers and identify the ones he had abused. Adamson marked off nine other names with a yellow highlighter.

He initially estimated “several” victims. Anderson asked if the number could be over 100, or over 50. Adamson said no.

“You’re not certain of the number, are you?”

“No, I’m not,” Adamson said.

Adamson is a defendant in a lawsuit filed by plaintiff Doe 1, who claims that Adamson sexually abused him in the 1970s when he served at St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park. Anderson represents Doe 1.

The lawsuit also names the Diocese of Winona and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as defendants, claiming that church officials created a “public nuisance” by quietly moving Adamson from parish to parish despite allegations against him.

Adamson said did not remember sexually abusing Doe 1 or attempting to sexually abuse him.

The archdiocese said in a written statement that it would not comment on the deposition, since it is sworn testimony and “speaks for itself.”

Adamson has been the subject of 16 cases by accusers, some of which were settled out of court, said Michael Finnegan, co-counsel to Anderson.

Anderson asked the former priest how the abuse of the first child started.

“I think he was very interested in me, interested in sex and that’s — just developed,” Adamson said.

Following two dozen accusations, Adamson was removed from actively practicing as a priest in 1985. He wasn’t ousted as a priest until 2009 — and he resisted it, believing he should be allowed to retain the title for life.

He said he had not been alone with a youth for more than 30 years.

Adamson was ordained in 1958 and worked through 1974 in the Diocese of Winona. In January 1975, he was transferred to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Anderson asked whether he was moved “because it had become known to the bishop (of Winona) you had sexually abused?”

“I don’t know that,” Adamson said.

He conceded that the move came one week after a “hassle” at his local parish, St. Francis in Rochester: A man from a previous parish “was threatening me.”

He was threatening to tell the parish that Adamson had abused his brother, wasn’t he? Anderson asked.

“Yes,” Adamson replied.

Doe 1’s lawsuit says that the Twin Cities archdiocese knew or should have known what the Winona diocese knew: that Adamson was a danger to children.

A year later, in January 1976, then-Archbishop John Roach wrote to the Rev. John Kinney, who was involved with priest personnel decisions, about Adamson.

“For reasons which (Diocese of Winona) Bishop (Loras) Watters was unwilling to discuss on the telephone, but which he promised to share with me later, he is asking that Father Adamson continue to work in the (Twin Cities) diocese for another year or year and a half …

“Bishop Watters assures me that Father Adamson is a good priest, who is a victim of a situation in Winona and he feels that he would be much better off if he were to be outside the diocese for at least another year,” Roach wrote.

Anderson asked in what type of situation Adamson was a “victim.”

He said he didn’t know.

Other clergy he was assigned to work with never asked him why he was transferred from Winona, Adamson said.

And church officials, beginning from the earliest allegation, did not ask him whether there were other victims, Adamson said in the deposition.

“There would be meetings of specific cases, but there were — I was never asked to list names,” he said.

The first to inquire about an allegation was Bishop Edward Fitzgerald, who served as head of the Diocese of Winona from the 1949 to 1969.

Fitzgerald had confronted him around 1964, Adamson said. He served at the time as a priest at St. John’s Church in Caledonia in southeast Minnesota and as superintendent of the Catholic schools there. The victim was a 14-year-old boy whom Adamson had masturbated, “probably in the gym or at the school,” he admitted.

What did the bishop say to him? Anderson asked.

“All I remember him saying is this is serious and he was disappointed, those were the biggest things that I remember,” Adamson said. He admitted the abuse to the bishop.

Another priest, the Rev. Jim Fitzpatrick, had told Fitzgerald that Adamson had abused 17 boys, Adamson later learned.

Fitzgerald gave no indication that Adamson would be disciplined, he said. The diocese then transferred him to Lourdes High School in Rochester in 1964.

Succeeding Fitzgerald was Bishop Loras Watters in 1969. Adamson estimated he learned around 1974 that Watters had information about his history of abuse. He had “several” conversations with Watters about the abuse before he was moved to the Twin Cities archdiocese, Adamson said.

“Did he ask if you’d abused any other kids?” Anderson asked.

“I don’t remember that, no,” Adamson said.

The diocese sent him to therapy.

Adamson agreed, in answer to questions, that his sexual abuse would usually begin with his spending time alone with a boy, then progress to touching their genitals and masturbating the boy. Sometimes there was oral sex, he said. Sometimes he used a vibrator.

By the time Adamson was removed from active ministry in 1985, church bishops and priests had fielded complaints of sexual abuse involving about 25 children, Finnegan said.

Though officials never asked him to detail his record of abuse, Adamson signed a “special agreement” with Archbishop John Roach in March 1983 saying he was to have no contact with youth. In the deposition, he did not recall such a restriction.

Anderson directed him to look at another document: a letter he received after his return to Minnesota from Eau Claire, Wis., where he had lived for several years.

The letter, dated Feb. 10, 2012, was from the Rev. Richard Colletti, vicar general of the Diocese of Winona.

“As you know, the Diocese of Winona has received numerous allegations over the past several decades that you committed acts of sexual abuse against minors in and without the diocese,” Colletti wrote. “Many of these allegations are credible.”

The diocese continues to defend itself against lawsuits involving Adamson, the vicar general wrote.

Given Adamson’s history, officials “view you as a potential threat to the safety of the children in our schools and in our parishes.”

Colletti said Adamson was banned from those locations.

The 2012 letter was the first time such broad restrictions had been placed on him, Adamson said.

Adamson draws a $1,650 per month pension from the Diocese of Winona, plus supplemental health benefits, he said. The diocese has also paid for his legal expenses; he never personally wrote checks to his attorney, Adamson said. Yet for the past two decades, he has paid $100 per month toward the legal debt.

Despite his “mistakes,” Adamson said he believed Winona officials would allow him to remain a priest. That was not to happen; Winona Bishop Bernard Harrington called him to a meeting in October 2008 and told him it was time to be laicized. Adamson could go through a contentious canonical trial or voluntarily give up his collar.

If it were voluntary, church officials would not announce it publicly, Adamson said. He felt he had no choice but to agree.

Adamson viewed his sexual abuse of boys as more of a sin than a crime. He said he did not know if any report had been made to law enforcement by church officials in either the Diocese of Winona or the Twin Cities archdiocese.

Anderson asked Adamson if he had ever spent a day in jail.

“No,” Adamson said.

“Don’t you think you should have?”

“No.”

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

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