Long-sealed records of 14 Catholic priests who worked in four high schools and 45 parishes across southern Minnesota were opened to public scrutiny Tuesday, revealing hundreds of documents indicating that the Diocese of Winona did not report claims of child sex abuse to law enforcement, did not remove offenders from ministry, and continued to financially support the priests even as the patterns of abuse became clear.
The documents also show that the Winona Diocese “anticipates eventual bankruptcy” as a result of that lawsuit and others being filed under the new Minnesota Child Victims Act.
The 14 priests worked in all four high schools in the diocese.
The files, including mental health reports on the priests and detailed complaints of sexual abuse, were made public as part of a groundbreaking lawsuit making its way through Ramsey District Court.
The lawsuit was filed last year by a man who said he was abused by former priest Thomas Adamson in the 1970s. Adamson was accused of molesting boys in the Winona Diocese before being transferred to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, where he allegedly abused the man in St. Paul Park.
The plaintiff sued both the Winona Diocese and the archdiocese, which also has released thousands of pages of priest files in recent months.
“The files being released on each of these credibly accused offenders reflects not only their history of offenses, but how they have been handled by top officials over the years,” said Jeff Anderson, the attorney for the lawsuit, who held a news conference in Rochester on Tuesday.
“Every time we disclose the past, we make it less likely to be repeated in the future.”
Bishop John Quinn of the Winona Diocese issued a statement after the news conference, noting most of the sexual abuse occurred in the 1960s and 1970s.
“The details of the sexual abuse contained in the files are painful reminders of the significant impact that sexual abuse has on the survivors of child sexual abuse,” wrote Quinn, adding that the diocese “has worked diligently” to comply with sexual abuse prevention protocol outlined by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002.
But the bishop had another response to this lawsuit and others making their way through the courts, documents showed.
In a letter to the Vatican dated March 25 of this year, Quinn requested that Rome reduce to lay status one of the 14 priests — the Rev. Leland Smith — in part because he was seen as a legal liability.
List published last year
Smith was removed from the ministry in 1994 following “several credible allegations” of child sex abuse, but had remained in the priesthood. Wrote Quinn: “the charge of negligence is especially difficult to overcome” if the accused priest retains his status as a cleric.
The bishop also said the diocese “anticipates eventual bankruptcy as a result of these lawsuits.”
The Winona Diocese publicly identified the 14 priests for the first time in December. Nine are deceased. Three have left the priesthood, and one is in the process of seeking laicization (lay status). One was deported to India.
While many files about Adamson were released in recent months through the archdiocese lawsuit, the Winona documents shed light on a different set of offenders.
The sexual abuse ranged from oral sex to fondling to rape, the documents showed. Emotional abuse often accompanied the physical abuse.
For example, the Rev. Richard Hatch would force one of his boy victims to have oral sex and then make him go to confession and confess it as if he were the cause of it, documents showed.
Like other dioceses, Winona kept the priests on the move, even after serious allegation of abuse.
A March 1998 letter from its then-diocesan administrator the Rev. Michael Hoeppner concludes: “The evidence supports the victim’s claim of criminal sexual conduct by [the Rev. Jack] Krough.” One month later, however, Hoeppner sent Krough a cheerful letter stating that “I am reinstating your faculties as a priest in good standing of the Diocese of Winona.”
The diocese continued to financially support the priests even while receiving abuse complaints. A July 1999 memo from the Rev. Edward McGrath to Krough’s file provides an update on Krough’s treatment and mentions how the priest groomed and manipulated elementary youth and provided them alcohol and drugs.
At the bottom of the page it adds: “Request: Needs dental work. $10,000.”
Likewise the Rev. James Lennon — who admitted he raped a former student — married, divorced, and petitioned Rome in 1999 to return to the priesthood. When he died in August 2000, the diocese was paying his health insurance out of the clergy education budget, documents showed.
Even clear evidence of sexual improprieties received little action.
After reports of sexual misbehavior by the Rev. Robert Taylor for several years, a janitor found a note on his rectory door in Pipestone in 1993 that said: “I no longer want to be your lover. I have found a girlfriend.”
It wasn’t until a year later that documents show that then-Bishop John George Vazny asked Taylor to resign as pastor at St. Loe’s church in Pipestone and St. Martin’s Church in Woodstock and to seek psychological evaluation.
Tim Allen of St. Michael was among a half-dozen survivors of the 14 priests who attended the news conference Tuesday.
He said he was abused by the Rev. Joseph Cashman when he was about 10 or 11, after the priest took him to his cabin for what Allen thought was a group fishing outing. It turned out to be a weekend for two.
The release of the priest files, which indicate he wasn’t the only boy abused at that cabin, gave him a sense of vindication, he said.
“What happened, I locked away for years,” Allen said. “Now is my time to speak out. I want to make sure nothing like this happens again.”
The 14 priests listed are: Tom Adamson, Sylvester Brown, Joseph Cashman, Louis Cook, William Curtis, Richard Feiten, Richard Hatch, Ferdinand Kaiser, Jack Krough, Michael Kuisle, James Lennon, Leland Smith, Robert Taylor and Leo Koppala.
Only five are still alive: Adamson, Cashman, Krough, Smith and Koppala.
St. Thomas finishes inquiry
Also on Tuesday, the University of St. Thomas announced that an outside investigation has been completed into allegations that the Rev. Michael Keating had sexual contact with a minor before he joined the Catholic Studies Department. Keating resigned from the university in September.
The investigation found that before October 2013, neither the presidents of St. Thomas nor their “direct reports” were aware that sexual abuse allegations had been made against Keating, wrote St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan in a letter to the “St. Thomas Community.”
The university did not receive complaints of sexual misconduct against Keating during his time at the university, the letter said.
It added: “The university has not received any complaints of, and is not aware of any unreported allegations of, sexual misconduct against other members of the clergy currently or previously working at St. Thomas that have not been promptly reviewed and addressed by the university.”