University of St. Thomas School of Law Prof. Hank Shea’s April 2 commentary, “Lawyers hold key to resolving bankruptcy issue,” was devoid of interest in putting survivors first. In a nutshell, Shea argued that the clergy sexual abuse case against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis can get resolved if my attorney and other attorneys reduce their fees. Nothing could be further from the truth. I and the numerous survivors I have spoken with do not want anything more from our attorneys. We want the archdiocese to treat us fairly and accept responsibility for what it did.
Let me tell you what this archdiocese did to me. It took a known child molester, Tom Adamson, from Winona and brought him to this archdiocese. Once Adamson was caught molesting again, they put him at my parish, Risen Savior. The archdiocese didn’t tell my parents, my family or me that Adamson was a serial child molester. Sadly, we trusted Adamson as our priest. He sexually abused me as an innocent child.
Not long after my abuse, my attorney, Jeff Anderson, took a case involving Adamson to trial in the early 1990s. The case resulted in a large verdict against the archdiocese. The archdiocese’s response was to create a new foundation to house its money, the Catholic Community Foundation. Today it is the largest such foundation in the United States, with more than $320 million in assets.
Years later when I was able to confront the abuse I suffered, I went to the archdiocese for help but was largely ignored. So I turned to Anderson, who met with me, believed me and supported me. Jeff showed me all of the documents he had on Adamson, showing that the bishops knew Adamson was abusing kids in 1963, years before I was even born, and that they received more than 10 separate reports of Adamson abusing kids before they put him at my parish. So I brought a lawsuit mainly seeking to have the names of all the perpetrators released publicly. Jeff and his team fought for me for years while the archdiocese’s attorneys put me through hell. After the archdiocese hid behind the time limits on my case and had it thrown out of court, the archdiocese brought a motion to force me, the survivor, to pay more than $100,000 personally to the archdiocese, the ones who covered up and caused me to be abused.
Once the Child Victims Act passed, the archdiocese fought tooth-and-nail to keep the names of its perpetrators out of the public eye. Anderson fought to get those names released and eventually accomplished that. Because of those efforts, there are now 90 names publicly identified on the archdiocese’s website. We were also able to get and release secret documents from the archdiocese and put many of the top officials under oath. All of this was done at the insistence of courageous survivors and of Anderson.
In 2015, the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to prevent sexual-abuse cases from moving forward and going to trial. Since the bankruptcy filing, it has continued to fight survivors. All that we have wanted is for the archdiocese to be open, honest and transparent. Instead, it has made legal maneuver after legal maneuver to try to shield its assets. It tried for the first time in the country to force an unfair resolution on survivors, called a cram-down in bankruptcy. Through the bankruptcy we have learned that the archbishop has more than $1 billion under his control stashed away in a number of different legal entities, all of which he is the head.
So, to put it bluntly, I don’t want anything from Jeff Anderson. He has been representing me for more than 15 years, not getting paid a dime for it, supporting me in this fight for transparency, child protection and accountability. And I know he provides this same support to all of his clients.
What I want is for Archbishop Bernard Hebda to stop the legal maneuvering and be transparent and honest with the survivors. What I want is for the archdiocese to honor the promise it made to put survivors first and to accept responsibility and stop blaming others.
Jim Keenan is the chairman of the Creditors Committee in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis bankruptcy case.