Throughout scripture God asks each of us to protect our children as they are to inherit God’s kingdom. In Psalm 127:3 we pray, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord.” As a priest, I was responsible not only for sharing God’s word, but living it.
I was a priest at the Cathedral in Winona when parents from Caledonia, near my home town, came to tell me that Father Tom Adamson had abused their sons and as many as 17 boys within the two Caledonia parishes. I reported Father Adamson to the Bishop of Winona. Father Adamson was eventually moved from Caledonia, but I was shocked to learn he was assigned to a Catholic high school in Rochester. Eventually he was moved to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis where he served in several parishes and, in every instance, he continued his molestation.
This is just one example of many that illustrates the lengths some church, school and other youth serving organizations will go to hide or cover up abuse. Some institutions have shuffled child predators to other sites, even to other states to shield known abusers from legal action in order to protect the institutions’ reputations. Worse yet, some church leaders have used a pretense of providing for a victim while time passes and the statute of limitations for legal action will expire. This ensures they can never be held accountable for their employee’s actions. The latter is a tactic known to have been used within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and made public by the recent $10 million settlement with two survivors of clergy sex abuse.
A change in Minnesota state law is needed to prevent this behavior at the institution level.
Current state law says that children who are abused immediately know they’ve been injured and accordingly, have until only age 24 to file a lawsuit against the abuser. We know children haven’t developed the cognitive skills to understand fully what has happened to them. We need to create opportunities for victims to seek justice, not confine them to arbitrary statutes of limitation that do not take into account the sometimes decade-long healing process.
We have the opportunity to allow victims to heal on their own time frame and still seek the justice they deserve by eliminating the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases. The Minnesota Child Victims Act currently being heard by the Minnesota Legislature would eliminate the statute of limitation for child sex abuse and allow survivors of child sex abuse to file a lawsuit against their abuser or the institution that negligently failed to report the abuse or actively worked to cover it up, no matter when the abuse occurred.
The Minnesota Child Victims Act provides a common sense solution that will prevent institutions from being able to stall and delay the legal recourse for victims. It will help past, current and future victims of child sexual abuse. It will hold accountable those institutions who delay to avoid a just settlement. It is the least we can do to protect God’s gift and our heritage, our children. — Jim Fitzpatrick, Mahtomedi
(Jim Fitzpatrick, an active priest from 1963-1973 in the Diocese of Winona, is currently a retired parish administrator.)